Primark today said its sales had beaten expectations in the fourth quarter of its financial year after the store-only business reopened from a Covid-19 lockdown that had shut its retail business down completely. The retailer’s parent company, Associated British Foods (ABF) says shoppers are now buying in a notably different way from before Covid, with sales down in its city centre shops but higher in retail parks.
Once stores reopened from a lockdown that started on March 23, sales at the value clothing retailer bounced back as shoppers at first spent more – reflected in a “significantly higher” average basket size than at the same time last year. Total spending in its markets – for footwear, clothing and accessories – all fell sharply in April and have since recovered as stores reopened and as shoppers returned to those stores. The latest four-week UK market data covering sales in all channels, says ABF, gives Primark its highest ever market share, both by value and by volume.
Parent company Associated British Foods (ABF) expects, in a pre-close trading update issued today, that shoppers will have spent at least £2bn between its store reopening in May, June and July and its year end on September 12. Primark’s UK sales alone are expected to be be 12% down over that period compared to the same time last year on a like-for-like basis which strips out the effect of store openings and closures. But, it says, if its four large UK city centre stores were excluded the decline would be by a more modest 5%.
In Europe, sales are expected to be 17% down for the period since reopening; if 11 city centre shops are excluded like-for-like sales are down by 13%. And in the US, sales are 9% down LFL, but 2% ahead when its Boston city centre shop is excluded.
Primark says its sales performance reflects changes in footfall and in the way that its customers now live. They are now more likely to be working from home, while commuting less and they are also less likely to be tourists. The practical result for its business has been higher sales in retail park stores, while those in shopping centres and regional high streets are “broadly in line with last year”. The greatest falls in spending have been in city centre shops. Its 16 largest city centre shops around the world contributed 13% of Primark’s total sales before Covid-19. Now they contribute 8%.
Expansion is on the cards despite the pandemic. The retailer has opened 12 new shops this financial year, including three in France post-Covid lockdown. Next year it plans to open 14, including one in the UK, 10 in continental Europe, and three in the US.
Fast recovery in its store sales has helped Primark to reduce the amount of stock it expects to take into next year from £284m previously to £150m. The retailer has now installed recycling collection boxes in all of its UK shops, and says all donated items of textiles, footwear and bags from any brand will be reused, recycled or repurposed, with none going to landfill, to raise money for Unicef children’s education programmes.
ABF says its safety measures in stores have been welcomed by shoppers, with improvements still being added in. It recently installed extra dividers at tills in its 250 busiest shops and can now operate more tills, with reduced queues.
Primark does not sell online and is, therefore, not assessed for the RXEU Top500 index. Its experiences are interesting as a contrast to those online and multichannel businesses that we more normally cover.
ABF said in today’s trading updates that its business had prepared for Brexit, whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a trade deal. “Primark,” it said, “operates largely discrete supply chains for its stores in each of the UK, US and Europe and the group’s food production is largely aligned with the end market.”
It added: “As a result there is relatively little group cross-border trading between the UK and the EU. Contingency plans are in place should some of our business experience disruption.”