Primark finally goes online in new click-and-collect trial

By Noor Nanji

Business reporter, BBC News

Image source, Reuters

Primark is to finally sell its clothes online through a new click-and-collect service for children’s products.

The High Street retailer said 2,000 goods will be offered through a trial which will run out of 25 shops in the north west of England.

Until now, Primark has resisted selling its products online unlike other retailers.

As a result, the business was hit hard by Covid restrictions while stores were closed.

Retail analyst Catherine Shuttleworth described Primark’s move as a “very big deal”, adding: “Covid showed the risk of having a store-only estate”.

However, the trial is not part of a wider plan to enable all of company’s products to be sold online, according to George Weston, chief executive of Primark’s parent company, Associated British Foods (ABF).

“What you will never see is the entire Primark range available for click and collect, nor any of it available for home delivery,” he told the BBC.

“We are using online selling for click and collecting very selectively,” he added. “When they come into their local Primark store if they’ve purchase online, then we hope they will buy something else while they are in store as well.”

Ms Shuttleworth said: “Primark has been looking for the best way to enter the online market, but if you’re late to the party – which it is – you need to do it in the most profitable way possible.

“Click-and-collect is simpler to build into your existing operation of shops, you don’t need a logistics partner, and returns come straight back into the store.”

Mr Weston said delivering orders to people’s homes was complex, not good for the environment and a “really expensive way of fulfilling someone’s order”.

ABF recently revamped its UK site to give more details of in-store ranges, so customers can browse the full collection and check availability before coming into stores.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption,

Primark’s sales bounced back when stores reopened after lockdown eased

ABF said its new website, which launched in April, saw online traffic rise by around 60%.

It said the trial will allow customers who live nearer a smaller Primark store access to a much wider range of items.

“Our average-size stores are only able to stock a limited range and for these customers the number of options available to them will broadly double, increasing even more for customers of our small stores,” said ABF.

“This trial will enable us to provide more fashion, licence and lifestyle products to more customers and more often.”

The group said Primark sales increased by 81% in the three months to the end of May, when compared with last year.

All Primark stores were open during the period, unlike last year when most stores were closed until the middle of April due to lockdown restrictions.

High Street’s future

The chain, which was founded in 1969, has never had an online store nor offered click-and-collect services for its products until now.

The firm has previously said this is because it would not be able to keep prices for its clothing as low if it offered home delivery.

Selling items online can be costly for retailers, who often cover the costs of deliveries and returns as a way of winning customers from rivals.

It also takes longer for warehouse staff to process returned stock.

While Primark suffered from its lack of online presence during the lockdowns, sales quickly recovered when stores reopened in April 2021.

A senior executive at the firm recently told the BBC that the pandemic had “accelerated” changes that were already taking place between the high street and online.

However, John Bason, finance director at Primark’s parent company ABF, said he is confident that the High Street does have a future.

“Even though we were closed probably six months for the two main years of the pandemic, our customers have come back to us. That I think is very very striking,” he added.

“So no, I think the demise of the High Street is way overstated, but it is changing. There’s no doubt over it.”