Irish value retailer Primark is stepping up its U.S. expansion with a new website for American shoppers, as more legacy retailers up their e-commerce games.
The enhanced website, which launches on Wednesday, features a much larger range of products (about 60% to 80% of total inventory) and more detailed product imagery. While the old website could not say if something was in stock, the new website tells customers whether items are available in certain sizes at a Primark location near them. Product pages also include information related to materials and care instructions — both of which, until now, could only be found on physical labels or packaging.
While the site isn’t e-commerce in the true sense of the word, Primark says a big part of its strategy is building a robust digital discovery experience and investing in social media. The new site, for example, is more interactive and better designed to integrate with social accounts. Shoppers can create a profile to save their favorite products and add them to a wish list. They can also browse online via their local store and sign up for a newsletter to receive sneak peeks of new collections.
The revamped site is a change in direction for Primark, which has traditionally been slower to move over to e-commerce. For years, Primark has focused on its brick-and-mortar strategy, which involves some 400 stores across 15 countries. However, after pandemic lockdowns forced it to shut hundreds of locations, Primark announced plans to digitize its business in late 2021. Last November, it conducted a BOPIS trial across 25 stores in northern England and Wales. Primark is planning a BOPIS trial in London in 32 stores later this year.
At its core, though, Primark remains a physical-based retailer, and it wants to use its new U.S. site to drive shoppers to its U.S. locations. Primark is currently on track to hit 60 U.S. stores by the end of 2026 — a significant increase from its existing 17. (Primark opened its first U.S. store in Boston in 2015.) For Primark, the hope is that its new website will increase its reach and build its customer base even more. Primark has already launched website updates in the U.K. and Ireland.
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Kevin Tulip, president of Primark U.S., told Modern Retail that a new U.S. website “is definitely something that our customers have been asking about as we’ve been opening our new stores.”
“We really see this relaunch as a big part of our growth ambition here in the U.S. — as a way to get more of our customers to not just see stock online, but also be able to share with their friends, make a more personalized page, sign up with their email address, integrate social more,” Tulip said. “It’s something that has been in the works for a while, and we’re really happy for it to now form part of our customer journey here in the U.S. as well.”
Two things missing from Primark’s new U.S. site, though, are online shopping and delivery. As a press release states, “Primark’s business model is centered on its stores, so the new website is not transactional.” Instead, it says, the website is “designed to be a virtual shop to explore what awaits in store.”
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“We’re really, really steadfast in our strategy of being a brick-and-mortar retailer,” Tulip told Modern Retail. “Ever since we started in 1969, it’s what we’ve been, it’s what we believe in… I think we’ve always been very clear around digital being a part of that, whether that’s been social media or whether it’s been things like looking at our website. But for us, it’s very, very firm on, we bring customers and we delight them in store. We give them an incredible customer experience. And we continue to get great results from that.”
Barry Thomas, global commerce expert at Kantar, said that he is a big proponent of physical stores and that he appreciates how much Primark weighs decisions at the local level. “I love their focus on stores and community,” he explained. However, he added, “to not be sort of an ‘and’ brand — online and offline — is challenging… You can create friction by building an e-commerce site that doesn’t have fulfillment to where you are.”
“The fastest growth channel in the world is the home,” Thomas continued. “Where do we spend more time? The home. What’s the biggest structural change? Work from home. I think it’s such a departure from mainstream consumerism, and I’m pulling for them, but I think it’s just really difficult with that strategy.”
To that point, many of Primark’s competitors have fully-operational e-commerce websites. Around 30% of H&M’s total sales this last quarter took place online, according to an earnings report. Inditex, the parent company of Zara, reported a record number of online sales in fiscal 2022.
When asked whether Primark was concerned about keeping up with fast-fashion brands that do offer online shopping, Tulip said no.
“I’m still encouraged by the mass volume and the huge percentages of sales that still go through physical retail, and I’m pretty sure that’s going to continue,” he said. “I fully believe in being very clear on the core of your business and not trying to be everything to everyone, making sure that what you do, you do incredibly well. And a lot of our focus goes into that, which is having amazing fashion at amazing prices… The quality and the value that we offer our customers, that’s where we put a lot of our time and energy into.”
Primark does have a sizable footprint on social media, though, with a presence across TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Two of its most popular videos on TikTok have 10.8 million views and 8.4 million views.
What’s more, Primark has partnered with about 500 influencers on online content, according to its parent company, Associated British Foods. In May 2020, Primark hosted a virtual pajama party in which brand ambassadors like fitness personality Alice Liveing and “Love Island” winner Kem Cetinay offered food and drink tutorials or taught TikTok dances.
While Primark’s new U.S. website remains store-focused, “digital is a big part of our ambitions, and we’ve focused a lot around social,” Tulip said. “We’ve got over 24 million followers now across our social media channels globally. It continues to be a significant part of our strategy.”