Primark boldly doesn’t go online

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There are some interesting rumours circulating this week that Primark is poised to launch its first transactional website, rumours that Primark staunchly denies. But it got me thinking that it is one of the only retailers that doesn’t need an ecommerce site.

The fashion and consumer press was alive with the rumour earlier this week, shortly followed by countless high street fashionistas hearts breaking as they found out that it wasn’t going to happen – at least no time soon.

Primark is resolute that it has no plans to launch an ecommerce site, but if it had been true it would be a big deal – but it would also have been a jarring move away from its business strategy.

While every other fashion retailer on the high street is embracing multichannel operations, be it ecommerce, click and collect, mobile platforms, smartphone apps or any combination of the above, Primark is one of the only major high street fashion chains that has deliberately steered clear.

The mantra that retail and digital consultants have been shouting from the rooftops for as long as I have been covering retail has been that seamless multichannel integration is the key to successful retailing.

This is spot on but I think Primark could be the exception to the rule.

In no way does a transactional site fit in with how Primark is growing. Its strategy is store based.

Associated British Foods, Primark’s parent company, held a management meeting yesterday (24 August) outlining the outlook for its business divisions which reiterated it’s commitment to the high street and plans to grow space by 10% in the coming year.

There are also ambitious plans for Germany where it sees potential for 150 stores, and up to 300 across Europe where it currently only has 30.

Primark shoppers have a certain mentality. Being one, I’m fairly familiar with it.

The shopping tactic for Primark is to get in, grab a basket full of low-priced garments, and get out again with as little hassle as possible.

It’s not experience based, it’s product based which means that a multi-platform business isn’t a necessity as it is for many of its higher priced high street rivals.

It would take an awful lot of £1 pairs of pants to offset the cost associated with setting up and running a transactional site.

Primark has in the past offered the same reasoning for why it doesn’t advertise. It relies on strong PR, word of mouth and its stores to do the talking. Any big budget marketing campaigns would only serve to eat into the margins and nudge the prices up.

The secret to Primark’s success is the balance between fast fashion at the lowest possible price, while maintaining an acceptable ethical framework. It’s on a knife edge and if any of those elements changes, the Primark pyramid could come crashing down.

In Primark’s case, it’s a bold move not to jump into online because everyone else is doing it but to stand firm with a strategy that while not universal, works for the business.

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