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Primark Trials Online Sales At Last But Warns Of Price Hikes

One of store-based retail’s last bastions, Primark, is to trial a click-and-collect service in the U.K. in its first significant move into online shopping.

Yet the move by the fast fashion giant comes with plenty of caveats.

The retailer said that it will launch the trial at 25 stores in the north-west of England by the end of the year, but added that the pilot would only include children’s apparel and accessories.

Primark-owner ABF said as part of a trading update Monday: “We have chosen a much-expanded range of children’s products for this trial, which we believe has the potential to satisfy unfulfilled demand, driving footfall from both existing and new customers to deliver incremental sales in store.”

Customers will be able to order from about 2,000 items online, representing around 40% of the range, including nursery furniture, apparel and licensed products. This move reflects the company’s aim to attract more families into its stores and George Weston, chief executive of ABF, said the trial was about “giving more customers more reasons to come to our stores”.

He said the company would test out the idea over several months and would look to expand beyond the test area or add other product categories if it increased sales.

Weston said shoppers would be able to try on items they had ordered online in designated collection areas and pick up additional items from the store, while click-and-collect and in-store returns will be offered free.

Primark New Website Boosts Traffic

ABF said its new website, which launched April, has seen online traffic rise by around 60%, and stressed that customers who live nearer smaller Primark stores will have 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.”

Primark has steadfastly resisted online sales to date, quickly ending a very limited product trial with fast fashion retailer Asos a few years back, and so far it has only used its website to give customers a preview of apparel on sale, and more recently to provide inventory information for customers.

“What you will never see is the entire Primark range available for click-and-collect, nor any of it available for home delivery. We are using online selling for click and collecting very selectively,” said Weston. “When they come into their local Primark store if they’ve purchased online, then we hope they will buy something else while they are in store as well.”

At ABF’s latest trading statement, the company announced sales at Primark up 81% over the 12 weeks to May 28 compared with the same period in 2021, at nearly $2.1 billion. Sales in the quarter were also 4% up on the same period in 2019 [comparable as this was the period before Covid lockdowns].

Weston said Primark was benefiting from a rebound in socialising and vacations, with a 50% leap in sales of travel luggage compared with 2019 and a surge in sales of other vacation staples such as beach towels and swimwear.

Primark Results Robust

The company added that although still below pre-pandemic levels, city center stores were performing much better, stating: “The return of tourism and more office working combined with an improvement in the weather across all our markets was reflected in a strong customer reaction to our fashion ranges.”

Weston said younger shoppers did not yet appear to be feeling the pinch, although ABF finance director John Bason conceded that the cost of living crisis was affecting people but added Primark was “as well placed as could be” in the tougher market.

“I would be amazed if we don’t get more people coming to Primark than we would’ve done before,” he said.

Nevertheless, Primark did warn of price increases in coming weeks, and Bason said they were likely to jump again in February next year amid increasing costs for fabrics, energy, transport and labor.