Anyone following Pokémon news on social media can be left in little doubt as to the biggest story of the day on Friday 18 October. To coincide with the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield versions for the Nintendo Switch, the Pokémon Company opened the doors of the one month-only Pokémon Center London at the Westfield shopping mall in Shepherd’s Bush.
In addition to a wide range of plushies, accessories and TCG products, the store also promised a wealth of exclusive UK-themed memorabilia – most notably the adorable bowler hat Pikachu. It was always clear to most observers that the event would be popular, but few would have expected what transpired!
What happened on the day?
Visitors starting queuing early, perhaps mutually failing to anticipate the swag-hunger of fellow fans. From reports on social media, attendees were waiting from before 3am! The line grew at rapid pace well before the Center’s 10 o’clock opening, snaking around two corners of the huge Westfield mall by 9am.
In a wise move by mall staff, fans were allowed to take pictures of the dapper City of London Pikachu in the front of the store without needing to queue (as shown off below by Jacky of the Pokéjungle writing team!). Visitors with disabilities and their carers were also assigned to a separate queue for a swifter and more comfortable experience.
It swiftly became apparent that hopeful shoppers were not deterred as the morning went on, as the queue extended to hundreds of metres outside the vast mall itself. It’s been reported that over 3,000 visitors waited in line over the course of the day!
By 1pm – 5 hours ahead of the store’s scheduled closing time – mall staff were turning visitors away from the back of the queue and the store announced that certain products (the London exclusives) would be limited to one per customer. Shoppers on subsequent days would be further restricted to only six items overall, and on Saturday afternoon Westfield itself confirmed that the mall had never experience queues of such length.
What went wrong?
Well, arguably nothing! The guidance made available on the official Pokémon website ahead of the store’s opening makes it very clear that long queues were to be expected, that certain products might be restricted to one per customer and that customers might be better advised to attend during later weekdays to avoid the crowds.
It’s hard to say whether anyone expected quite this many people to show up, but by all accounts staff were well-prepared and handled the day’s events professionally. Though some larger items sold out, attendees reported that smaller items remained well-stocked throughout the day and that the store has a daily allocation of products – music to the ears of fans who can only attend at a later date! (Note: At time of writing, Saturday’s visitors were let down later in the day when faced with shelves bereft of London exclusives, likely due to an even busier day).
What was the reaction?
While many fans were predictably disappointed to wait up to half a day to gain entry (if they were able to join the queue at all), the reaction on social media was well-measured, with many people accepting the wait as part of the nature of an opening event. It wasn’t only the fans who chimed in; the event received mainstream news coverage, too.
Though attendees were understanding, one thing that has become abundantly clear is that UK Trainers are absolutely baying for a permanent Center, a call that has been made consistently for several years but has now reached fever pitch with the upcoming release of Sword and Shield.
What does this mean?
The opening has undeniably been a success for the Pokémon Company, and social and traditional media coverage of the day’s events probably resulted in a net positive sentiment despite the justifiable disappointment of a number of visitors. Perhaps more significantly, it’s provided proof (if it were needed) of the scale and fervour of the UK fanbase and just how hungry that audience is for a permanent Center; it’s hard to imagine a way of sending a stronger signal!
Did you get chance to attend the opening of Pokémon Center London, or were you one of many to miss out? Will you visiting later in the coming weeks? Let us know in the comments below!