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Primark meets overwhelming levels of interest as it sells online – for in-store collection – for the first time

Primark shoppers can order online for collection from 25 UK stores. Image courtesy of Primark

Shoppers can now buy online from Primark for the first time, as it launches the much-heralded trial of its new click and collect service today. The Primark website appears to have been overwhelmed by the level of interest this morning, with many shoppers not able to get onto the website – although it is also fully functioning for others.

A Primark spokesperson says: “It’s been great to see so much interest in the launch of our new Click + Collect trial. We’re aware that some people have had issues accessing the website this morning and we’re working hard to address this to ensure that everyone can access and browse the site easily.”

‘Pivotal’ moment

Nonetheless the value retailer’s decision to sell online for the first time is being heralded by the wider industry as a pivotal moment for ecommerce. The service focuses on using the convenience and broader range of ecommerce to bring shoppers in-store, but also offers its customers an online service that can continue to operate if stores ever have to shut again, as happened throughout pandemic lockdowns. In the first year of Covid-19, Primark estimated that it had lost £2bn to temporary closures, a figure that would likely have been significantly reduced had it been able to sell online.

The trial click and collect service currently enables customers buy from a range of 2,000 children’s clothing, toys and nursery products before collecting in one of 25 shops in the North West, Yorkshire and North Wales – from Sheffield to Manchester, Liverpool and Wrexham – on their chosen day. Many of the online ranges are exclusive to click and collect, including multipacks of products that are in-store bestsellers.

Orders will be ready to collect within two days, and shoppers can choose to collect them up to seven days after ordering. The service is free but shoppers must spend at least £15. The new service aims to minimise excess packaging, with orders delivered to store in brown paper packaging or cardboard boxes sealed with paper tape that can all be recycled at home.

Paul Marchant, Primark chief executive, says: “It’s a very proud moment to see Click + Collect go live. This trial showcases the very best that Primark has to offer across kidswear, combining much more choice, great style and incredible value.

“We’re big fans of the high street and we believe passionately that a thriving local shopping area benefits everyone in the community. Our approach to online is all about supporting and complementing our stores, which will always be at the heart of our business. 

“The trial offers the convenience of browsing and shopping from the comfort of your home, while also providing customers living near one of our smaller stores, like Wallasey, as big a range as on offer in a much larger store like Liverpool. Everyone, no matter their local store, will get access to lots of exclusive new products.”  

Bringing shoppers in-store

Primark has been late to online shopping, choosing to put its stores first. Its ecommerce service continues that focus, with an onus on bringing shoppers into its stores. When it launched its new website in the spring, a key feature was the ability to check stock levels in-store before visiting. Primark is also working with other partners to improve its store experience – from the Vintage Wholesale Company, which has three concessions in Primark stores to Greggs, which operates cafes in two stores, and a Disney-focused Primark Café. Beauty studios, grooming services and other food and drink outlets are also available in stores. 

Industry reaction

Tobias Buxhoidt, CEO and co-founder of parcelLab, says: “Primark are not the only business that found a dependency on brick-and-mortar retail a significant cost during the pandemic. However, it is true that pandemic shutdowns brought about palpable frustrations from Primark customers at the lack of an online offering. Their introduction of click-and-collect is testament to the fact that customer demands will always win out in these situations, with major retail brands increasingly looking for loyalty-driving strategies to increase sales.  

Ultimately, an online presence provides greater flexibility to consumers who might not have easy access to a store. Click-and-collect ensures customers can guarantee the availability of certain products, which is especially important given many are looking to shop earlier this Christmas and spread out the costs of the holiday period. Whilst the initial crash of its service will be a frustration for some, it is unlikely to hurt the company in the long run.”  

Melissa Minkow, director, retail strategy at CI&T, says: ““Primark offering online ordering is massive, as the retailer had maintained for a while that it would be strictly brick-and-mortar. Considering how price-sensitive consumers have been forced to become, an affordable retailer like Primark increasing its accessibility is a helpful move to shoppers.

“Further, Primark stores can be challenging to comprehensively shop on a time crunch, especially when crowded, so the online channel will create an efficiency for many. While the retailer will have to assume more returns, this decision is absolutely the right one in sustaining Primark’s positioning as a modern brand. If Primark didn’t innovate to match shoppers’ buying behaviours, the brand would risk obsolescence.”

Samantha Mansfield, head of strategy experience and commerce at Merkle UK, says: “Primark’s reluctance to join the digital age seems to have faded. Online interactions now make up a big chunk of our lives, so this move will be beneficial. Click-and-collect options merge the digital and the physical of business and can offer immediate and tangible experiences. This is crucial for an increasingly digital world to grow alongside the brick and mortar. In the run-up to Christmas and as it already announced a price freeze of products, Primark is looking as if it will have a successful festive season – with loyalty the true prize in mind.

“Brand loyalty follows when a brand fully understands their customers, knows what they want, and delivers on it digitally. Primark seems to have woken up to commerce today – it isn’t just about transactions, it’s a new paradigm that demands a personalised approach to meet people’s expectations.”

Nick Drewe, founder of online discounts platform Wethrift, says Primark is making “a pivotal move to transition itself into the ecommerce world”.

“Click and collect has become a huge asset to the high street, meeting in the middle of normal in-store purchasing and ordering online to the doorstep,” says Drewe.

“Whilst consumers love to shop online from the comfort of their own home, often the delivery process can be less convenient, when deliveries take longer than expected, parcels are lost, and of course then needing to return an item which can be more time consuming for the customer.”

Drewe adds: “Primark stores, especially in the big city high streets like Manchester, Edinburgh and London are often packed full of shoppers and queues can be a long wait for visitors, so when customers want to be in and out, this can make the experience feel somewhat daunting. Having click and collect should help to take away the thought of how busy it will be when customers enter a Primark store and should help to create a more seamless shopping experience.”

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