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PROSPER’S OPINION: Why Primark is bucking retail’s downward trend and thriving on today’s high street

Despite tough trading for most non-food retailers, Primark is reporting growth and continuing to expand. Sarah Davis, Colin Walsh and Adam Taylor from the Prosper team share their thoughts on why, and what they are getting right…

The business pages are painting a gloomy post-Christmas picture of retail trading on the high street. The British Retail Consortium reports of the worst performance of non-food sales since record began and stalwart stores such as Marks & Spencer and Next have posted falling store sales. Shares in Debenhams have also plummeted again, with analysts speculating that it may suffer the same fate as BHS.

Bucking the downward trend

Primark is among the few clothing retailers bucking that trend and reporting growth. Sales at the budget fashion chain were up by 7% in the four months to 6 January, which follows a strong summer performance, where it reported a 10% surge in like-for-like UK sales.

Primark’s strong end to 2017 means it’s likely to overtake Next to become the UK’s second largest clothing retailer behind Marks & Spencer. It’s even more interesting that Primark is outperforming rivals when it does not sell online, the source of most sales growth in the sector.

Still expanding

When other retailers are rationalising and closing down stores, Primark continues to expand. Primark has opened several new stores across Germany in recent months and one in Portugal. In the UK, it has opened in Charlton, returned to Oxford’s redeveloped Westgate shopping centre and moved into a larger store in Rotherham.

So what factors have made Primark such a leading retailer on today’s high street? Prosper’s Associate Director, Sarah Davis, Head of Branding Colin Walsh and Senior Interior Designer Adam Taylor give their opinions on what’s behind Primark’s success.

Appealing offering and clear positioning

“Primark has established itself as the deserved leader of affordable fast fashion for all. In tough times when disposable income is squeezed, Primark allows people to stay on trend on a budget,” explains Colin.

“As a brand Primark is clear about its offer and what it stands for, so delivers that with confidence. The chain has played a key role in making affordable fashion both acceptable and desirable,” adds Adam.

Quality of store environment

Although Primark is a budget store, it doesn’t look like it or speak to its consumers that way. “Primark stores deliver a shopping experience that is more premium than many consumers would expect at this price point,” continues Adam. “Primark has led the way in showing that affordable fashion doesn’t have to equal budget store fits. Now other players are following suit, such as Polish retailer Reserved, who just opened its first UK store.”

“Primark stores are modern, clean and airy, plus considered in the details, be it the colours, materials or the retail fixtures, to create a place in which people want to shop in and dwell,” explains Sarah Davis.

Timeless branding and wide appeal

“Primark also has strong brand equity and appeal” says Colin. “The Primark logo itself is understated and timeless, its packaging/labels/POS is considered. Even the swing tags feel premium.” That helps maintain broad appeal – Primark does something for everyone very well.

“Primark covers the complete consumer spectrum,” continues Colin. “It doesn’t just concentrate on young female fashionistas but also appeals equally well to the less fashion-conscious budget shopper.”

“Men can buy a good quality, well fitted suit and shoes at Primark that competes with the likes of M&S. Teenagers with pocket money can spend it on clothes, make-up and jewellery rather than sweets or toys, and are more sophisticated in their tastes than ever before. 

Less brands, more individualism

“Not that long ago, big brands were king and it was cool to be seen in logo wear. Consumers defined themselves by the brands they wore, which was very status driven,” says Adam.

“Now there is a new, more savvy breed of consumer who doesn’t want to be a human brand billboard but instead recognised for their individuality” Adam continues. “It’s more about brand mix – there’s a strength in not knowing if someone has been shopping in Primark, Topshop or a premium brand.” 

Letting customers do the advertising

This new type of consumer is also happy to promote where they’ve bought their items. “Primark has grown in the age of social media where people want to share their look on Instagram or their blogs, and are proud to say it’s from Primark,” says Colin.

Primark even states this in its Mission Statement: “We target millennials through non-traditional marketing tactics by using minimal advertising and utilising social media and word of mouth promotion.”

This also explains how Primark can be successful without doing ecommerce in a digital age. Instead the chain engages customers on their Primania website section. By not having big advertising campaigns or ecommerce, Primark keeps overheads low to maintain affordable prices.

Agile and responsive to trends… and customers

Another strength is being agile and always evolving in today’s fast-paced world.  “Primark is always aware of the latest trends – globally and locally – and constantly evolves its store designs to keep on trend, or even lead the trend,” says Sarah. “They aren’t afraid to try new things.”

Other retailers are ceding market share to Primark, not just because of cost, but also slow adaptability and arrogance too. Primark listens to its consumers and adapts their offering accordingly, which earns them loyalty.

From all the reasons above, it’s clear that it’s far more than lower prices driving Primark’s continued success.

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