UK: Why is Primark resisting the shift to online?

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Discount Fast Fashion Retail Chain Primark's (owned by Associated British Foods) resistance to shifting to online has for years baffled consumers and investors alike. In an age when online shopping is thriving, Primark has continued to expand its bricks and mortar selling space.

A wave of shopping trips were unleashed when non-essential retailers in England were able to reopen their stores on June 15 as lockdown measures were eased. Primark saw hundreds of people queue up when it reopened English stores. Further continuing long queues were reported, especially at Primark, reflecting a level of pent-up demand for fast fashion that needed to be satisfied. It also marked the first time shoppers could get their hands on Primark’s products – especially since it’s notorious for not have any ecommerce channels whatsoever.

“Primark is in no rush to go online due to concerns about the net profitability of ecommerce”

While rivals such as H&M and Zara invested heavily in e-commerce and reduced their store estate even before the pandemic struck, Primark took a different approach to attracting customers to make a profit. The Discount Fast Fashion Retail Chain said its sales come from increasing its physical selling space, a strategy that proved to work in the past year – especially when Primark opened the biggest store in its global estate in Birmingham in April 2019. “Our decisions online will be taken in their own context, not because of a once-in-a-hundred years pandemic,” said George Weston, the chief executive of Primark parent company Associated British Foods. Although Primark has a website, it does not sell products online.

With around 370 stores across 12 countries – 188 of which are in the UK – Primark still has more room for expansion when compared to the likes of Zara, which has 7,412 stores across 72 markets.

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