Primark blows its rivals away by giving its customers what they want

The cheap and cheerful clothes retailer's success suggests that there is a future for bricks and mortar stores 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Wednesday 19 April 2017 17:12 BST
Primark is now an anchor tenant
Primark is now an anchor tenant

For those who would have it that bricks and mortar retailing is doomed to a slow death, I give you Primark.

M&S’s clothing business might be in managed decline, Next might have set out a gloomy scenario for its stores alongside its latest disappointing results, but Primark is motoring.

That might just have something to do with the chain, which is oddly part of Associated British Foods, giving customers what they want at prices they’re happy to pay.

M&S has been struggling with that for years. Next recently came unstuck with a move into fancier fashion, forsaking the basics that it made its name with.

You wouldn’t expect that from Primark. The odd lapse in judgement. The occasional tasteless offering. There's always a dash of controversy in the mix (see recent news stories). But you wouldn't ever expect Primark to forget what it's all about.

You would expect to find a women’s leather style biker jacket for £14, a pair of ripped jeans to go with it for £1 less and a T shirt for a fiver.

Small wonder that people flock to its stores in spite of its occasional PR snafus. And not just in Britain either. The format is being successfully exported.

The business doesn’t do internet sales, because when you sell clothes at its price points the economics of factoring delivery costs into the equation don’t work. But it does have an active web presence, particularly on social media where lots of its customers are to be found.

Click and collect? You can see it coming. Analysts have been speculating about it. You're just not gong to get its clothes delivered to your door.

Primark's promise to absorb the extra costs imposed by the weak pound should only enhance its appeal. Next is doing the opposite, a brave move when its customers incomes are stagnating.

Care to guess which of the two will do better in the long run?

We should never forget the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, which contained several factories producing clothes for 28 brands including Primark. And it is worth keeping up the pressure when it comes to the subject of worker treatment, although that applies to the entire garment industry. Primark was at least quicker to respond than most of those brands, and the fact that it feels the pressure (see the ethics section on its website) shows that exerting it is worthwhile.

But back to business in Britain. People might once have scoffed at the idea of Primark as an anchor tenant for shopping centres. That was Marks’ job. Or Next’s. Not any more. Hey, we’ve got a Primark, Come down to our mall!

With the economy looking decidedly dicey as Brexit looms, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development warning of Britain becoming a low skill, low wage economy, this a business whose time has come.

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