You’re a huge tent with large numbers of visitors thronging to see the latest instagram star, so what could be better than a long row of designer retailers to drain even more money from their wallets?
That’s the Icon Outlet at O2, a long tube that snakes around the internal perimeter of the Millennium Dome and offers you everything from clothes to clothes and even some clothes.
Architecturally, it’s a curious thing, a hole in the wall high up in the dome that can be reached by elevators — with a convenient break halfway up to stop and get selfies on the glitter staircase. It looks unnerving though, as if someone has cut open a giant intestine from some alien species and laid it out for people to wander through.
A giant quote on the wall from a pop star indicates the customer this maw of a mall is aimed at. You’re certainly not coming up here for domestic consumables. It’s all high end fashion labels and experiences.
Yet, the curious thing is not that it’s nearly empty – for my visit on a Sunday lunchtime, when pretty much every shopping centre in the land is packed, was a visit to a nearly vacant space.
It’s the 1% zone, for that was roughly how many people seemed to be in the long cavernous space.
No, the curious thing is that despite the paucity of people, there was a total lack of shopping going on. Yes, some people were in the shops, but totally lacking was the sight of people carrying bags laden with their latest acquisitions.
It’s the ultimate window-shopping experience, and considering that it’s been open for a year, if this is the future, then it’s a worrying one for the luxury retailers who have invested in the shop fittings.
Rather incongruously, the Dome has pushed on, and recently opened a lower level, offering even more space for the thin crowds to spread out and more windows to look at, and less shopping to take place.
Apparently, the shops are supposed to be cheaper than the high-street equivalents, but if so, then that undercuts the luxury appeal of the product, the Veblen Good if you like where the higher price in of itself makes an item desirable.
The discounts are probably both dissuading the premium shoppers, yet not good enough to attract the bargain hunters.
Aesthetically, it’s very white and clean and glossy, even if the yellow insertions from the Dome now end up looking like alien missiles fired into the belly of this intestinal space we are passing through.
A gushing report in Essex Live breathlessly notes that the Icon Outlet “can be reached in just 30 minutes from Essex. Simply get to Stratford and hop on the Jubilee line for 10 minutes.” — conveniently ignoring that Westfield has a vastly larger shopping centre in, umm Stratford.
That may be the problem, the shopping is too expensive for people to casually browse while waiting for the show they’re really come to see opens, but the shopping is too generic and narrow to attract people on a special trip.
It’s simply not that iconic.