Why London needs a permanent Pokémon Center – Reader’s Feature

A reader reviews his experience of the London Pokémon Center and what could be done to improve it in a new location.

Yesterday marked the final day for the Pokémon Center London pop-up store in Westfield London, after four weeks of trading. From the start, news spread of its popularity – proven by weekday queues of five hours, extending to eight hours on a weekend. This was followed by the various stream of comments criticising the woeful lack of stock, despite a six items per person limit being enforced after a week, later five and only one from each section of the store.

I think it is fair to say that the majority of us who attended and didn’t camp out from the early hours of the morning had already prepared for failure in getting what they wanted, and just wanted to be there for the experience of seeing what was inside and procuring whatever exclusive items were in stock. When I made my pilgrimage at the beginning of November I found the whole experience rather cordial: the contractors hired to control the queue were polite enough, everyone in the queue I met were sociable, and when I was able to get inside I was allowed to cover my head and hands in a dragon costume.

The whole first floor of Westfield London was more or less a Pokémon Go convention, with at least two specially generated pokéstops within the boundaries of the store: trades, friend requests, and raid battles were aplenty. It was a shame that the Wi-Fi indoors was so spotty, since downloading the app after a three-year hiatus took over an hour, and you did feel left out from the surrounding buzz if you weren’t joining in.

Once I managed to get inside the store just before 4pm (have been in the queue at 8am), I could see empty shelves where most of the London-centric merchandise once was, but there were plenty of Gen I plushies, Sword and Shield plushies, and I dare say an excess of Detective Pikachu merchandise. For a pop-up store, it was well-decorated, with various Pokémon designs dotted throughout the wall, as well as a mural that you could pose for photos in front of.

To be honest, I was so caught up in the excitement of getting inside, that I had forgotten about an upper floor being used to drum up pre-release hype for Pokémon Sword and Shield, so I’d be grateful if someone can tell me how that was and whether it would have been worth it.

(It was the E3 demo of the Water Gym, which is easily the least interesting one in the game – GC)

With Pokémon being such a well-known brand, it was inevitable that there were going to be those who were after a quick buck by grabbing as much as they could on the first day to sell on the secondary market for a high mark-up. Even two weeks after my visit, it does still sting when I watch collector vlogs from the first week bragging about their haul, especially the bowler-hatted London Pikachu plush toy, which had become the most popular item, and characteristic of the whole event.

Stock of that toy ran out completely last week and is now being sold online at about five times the original price. Being a badge collector, I thought my desires were more modest and achievable, but I still ended up missing out on the brass-coloured London crest badge (again, being resold online for five times the retail price). In hindsight, if the item limit was put in place from the start, there would be a lot less complaints about people missing out, despite some who may squabble about having their freedom to choose being limited.

London was chosen as the location for the pop-up store as it was the inspiration for the Galar region in Pokémon Sword/Shield, so my initial thought would be that this pop-up store event was a one-off marketing gimmick and nothing will come off of it. But the question still looms large over whether what we have seen over the past four weeks is a good case to create something more permanent in the UK. So would a permanent store work?

In the first floor of Westfield London, definitely not – the length and duration of the queues would be far too much of a burden for the shopping centre to handle on a daily basis, even when attendances simmer down. There is also the fact that Shepherd’s Bush is situated in a section of London that is distant from where the tourist traps are located, meaning that the store wouldn’t achieve its full potential outside of dedicated Pokémon fans.

For a permanent store, I would suggest taking a risk and finding a two or three storey location near Leicester Square, where the Lego Store has been thriving for three years, and M&M’s World is popular enough to account for one-eighth of all M&M’s sales nationwide. In those two stores, they cross-promote their own brand alongside the brand of London itself through attractions and displays, as well as exclusive merchandise on sale.

If a permanent Pokémon Center London is to be a reality, it will need to cater to more than just fans, but also to appeal as a novelty factor to tourists in general. If it was an experiment, the pop-up store did well in catering both markets, as they sold not just clothing and plush toys, but also subculture specific items like playmats and trading card covers.

Regardless of what happens in the future, everyone in the vicinity of the pop-up store who checked in through Pokémon Go should have been presented with a gift that they are encouraged to pass onto someone else. If you forgive me, I think I’ll keep this gift as a digital keepsake for myself, until I find a more permanent reminder suitable for a lapel…

By reader GGEuDraco (Friend Code: 5678-1979-9408)

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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