Primark’s refusal to go online could mean “the start of the end” for the beloved brand

Primark’s continuing insistence not launch an ecommerce offering despite taking a £1.1 billion hit could “be the start of the end” for the beloved brand.

Last week the fast fashion giant, owned by Associated British Foods (ABF), reported a 30 per cent drop in sales in the 16 weeks to January 2, as 305 of its 389 shops around the world remained shut.

This means roughly 28 per cent of Primark’s stores remain open, while the retailer reported that sales performance at stores that remain open is varied as less tourism and more people working remotely hammered footfall.

Despite this plunge in sales, Primark has remained staunchly opposed to experimenting with selling its goods online, even as its fast fashion rivals like Boohoo report runaway sales.

“Are we losing sales here during these store closures? Yes, that is not in dispute here,” AFB’s finance director John Bason said.

READ MORE: Primarks CEO says those who think online shopping shift is permanent are “wrong” and “naive”

“But that does not mean that it pushes you to make uneconomic decisions about changing a winning business model.

“Our price point is the reason that we can’t and other people cannot make money online. That makes us different.”

Analysts across the industry have questioned its hard-headedness, arguing Primark could suffer irreparable damage without exploring ecommerce options.

Fluent Commerce’ managing director Rob Shaw said: “The irony is, Primark has procured most of the technology components they need to open up an eCommerce channel which, if utilised correctly, would have preserved significant amounts of lost revenues and potentially consumer advocacy, during the COVID-19 lockdown period – even if this was offered via limited regions in the first instance as a pilot.”

Andy Barr, retail expert and co-founder of online price tracking website Alertr, argued that while Primark has until now faired fairly well during the pandemic, now “might be the time to reconsider” their offline-only approach.

“We have seen even the biggest retailers take huge blows over the last year, with store closures and job losses being reported almost daily,” Barr said.

“If Primark continue to ignore online shopping, they could well go the same way, despite their popularity.”

Rick Harris, director of discount online retailer, warned that Primark’s loyal fanbase would not remain so forever, and months without being able to shop with Primark could force customers to turn elsewhere.

“If truth be told, the resistance to move online is no doubt in part due to there not being a large enough margin in their clothes to justify a high level of return,” he said.

“Customers will only remain loyal for so long though; could this be the start of the end for Primark?”

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16 Comments. Leave new

  • Drop in Ocean for ABF

  • Totally agree. People are willing to pay more for sustainability. It’s ridiculous for a company to refuse to adapt in this day and age. I’m out my money can go to Bershka, stratavarius, shein and alike as all are within price range and easy to purchase and guess what their sustainable material section is growing!

  • Who needs to be buying clothes at the moment?? There’s nowhere to go to wear them. We are stuck indoors under lockdown. Every day is a pyjama day! Santa brought me plenty of those, so I’m sorted😉

    • No it isn’t it’s good not to, I’m fed up of clothes online shopping I have to order different sizes then return try doing that with customs now we left the EU. Also Primark doesn’t have the decades old leases Debenhams and Arcadia had.Also their stock is online on eBay etc reselling the items that’s green to do that

  • Jennifer Barnard
    January 22, 2021 9:47 am

    After not being able to get the items I wanted from primark, dec/Jan, I looked else where and for the same price I got my knitted cabled lounge suits from pretty little thing, same price same quality and so soft and comfy, if you look round you will find what your looking for I did, they need to know, we are not going to be around for ever, they keep putting stuff on Instagram teasing but why bother we can’t buy it the shops are closed, it’s time to be dragged into this century were we can go on line and buy. That’s what I did looked round and bought, and I’m pleased with what I bought same price, same quality. Think about it primark it makes sense when your losing cash don’t moan about it do something about it we aren’t going to be around forever

  • A very high percentage of clothes bought online are returned, people expect free returns, and then there is the cost of checking re-packing etc. This adds to their costs and while they would be saving on High Street rent space it can be very difficult, especially when you are dealing with the bottom end of the market price wise.

    • Correct plus Brexit customs Primark is IRISH (EU) where they don’t have a website people can’t order in different countries!!! they are going to do better than expected the demand from people who died and changed weight their stuff is on eBay I’ve seen plenty of Primark online I’ve got a bag full of stuff from them I stopped shopping there in 2009

  • I think Primark should be congratulated for not going online.They are keeping the high street alive,keeping people in employment.My nearest Primark is is over 50 miles from where I live or 30 if you take the ferry to belfast.If clothing is all you have to worry about thats sad.
    So remember when you walk down the street full of boarded up shops its online thats done it as well as the cost of rates etc
    That properties have to pay.There are not many overheads in a warehouse.Well done Primark wish we had one in Stranraer.

    • I agree. I like them not being online they are accessible to older people, disabled and the poor. Also they are trying to be sustainable, not having delivery saves as some could turn up on bikes and foot to get things and their practices improved after years of criticism. This is wrong to expect them to go online It didn’t work for Debenhams and Arcadia did it?

  • i would love of they went on line but with a newborn i wouldn’t be venturing out to shop. Sorry Primark you’ve missed a trick with no delivery.

  • I agree Primark doesn’t need to go online it needs to be as it is. People need affordable clothes not everyone manages online women can’t get underwear online it’s often non refundable so making it expensive. Primark also used to have mostly good staffing, I was asked if I wanted to work there I didn’t. I stopped shopping there when I got larger. Yours clothing I shopped at now and charity shops. I will be boycotting them more in future for charity shops. The cost will rise there will be a lot of stuff in charity shops

  • I agree with some people saying they need to keep the high street alive that’s all well & good but in this age of technology they are kind of missing out, especially in this whole year with pandemic ppl took more to online shopping than ever before, myself with health conditions I can barely go out sometimes & grateful for online shopping. Yes their concern is delivery maybe they can set up a yearly paid delivery pass I’m sure a lot of people would agree to it. If this continues they will likely to bust no matter how successful they used to be

  • I think any 1 buy no essential. R bang out off order its OK for them to stay at home why people need to go to work for click and collect…for me people the buy online or click and collect r just as worse who r breaking rules…think off the poor people that got to travel to work in this pandemic…..all shops needs to b shut….no online shops…think off staf not the money. Health over welth end really

  • If Primark are refusing to shop on line, it’s no one’s fault but their own. Everyone is used to shopping online. Christmas has been and gone!

  • The true cost of online retailing is often hidden by the bricks and mortars retailers as returns are 90% of the time costed against stores they are returned to. So while digital gets the sales for 3 tops the returns for the other 2 tops which was brought in different sizes to try on is a refund against the returning store. Also free delivery and returns is great for the customer but it’s not free for the retailer someone has to pay. We hear about double digit growth by bricks and mortars retailers digital division but not about the profit they make. Primark correctly looks at the costs to run its business.
    We need to protect our high streets and retail jobs Primark needs to be commended for their business model and stance.


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