Wednesday 13 January 2021 12:58 pm

Debate: Should Primark open an online store?

Overnight opening hours, queue-management systems and lashings of promotions – Primark did everything it could to keep its customers happy amid a year of on/off lockdown restrictions.

But with parent company Associated British Food’s trading update out this week, is it time for the High Street phenomenon to go digital, too?

Kam Phullar, Lead Strategist at digital marketing agency Feed, says YES.

Despite not having an online store, Primark has weathered the pandemic remarkably well, so far. It’s proof that their powerful value proposition is striking relevance with consumers right now, especially where they may have been impacted economically.

However, with lockdown continuing for the foreseeable future, they would be remiss to not consider an online store. This would not only future proof their operations and supply chain, but also help defend their position against wider value outlets like JDSports and H&M.

Primark has a loyal highstreet following who came back strong when stores were kept open overnight to help shoppers with last minute Christmas gifts. But, with increased attention on low cost production retail, there’s also some brand lifting needed to help temper this negatively impacting narrative and to remain relevant to even newer customer groups. An online outlet can help do this, whilst also providing a financially viable avenue to broaden customer base, shift concessions, and retain market position.

Primark should also be mindful to learn from retailers such as Debenhams reacting slowly to changes in customer behaviour and technologies.

UK Non-essential Retailers Reopen To Shoppers As Coronavirus Lockdown Eases Further
Milton Keynes’ Primark saw queues into the car park during the summer reopening (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Michael Sugden, CEO at marketing agency VCCP Partnership, says NO.

No? Really? N.O.? “Heresy” the mob cry. “Don’t be a dinosaur” Twitter rages. “Evolve or die” the business pages advise.

But here’s the thing. Primark has always been an outlier. Primark has thrived in the high street when the sector is in a death spiral. It offers prices that convention says can only be delivered by online retailers. It has ‘opening hours’ in an ‘on-demand’ world. Primark has made a virtue of bucking the trend.

Indeed, going online is risky. Primark’s USP is price. It delivers these low prices by having an incredibly streamlined operation with one sales channel – physical retail. Going online will be an incremental cost and will impact prices. If Primark does hold out it will also emerge into a world with less high street competition and unprecedented pent up demand for physical versus online shopping.

We also need businesses that are prepared to stick two fingers to conventional wisdom. We need the outliers and mavericks who are prepared to beat a different path. As another famous brand once said “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.”

Lockdowns will end. Primark should hold its nerve.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.