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Primark Should Not Sell Online – Here’s Why They Don’t

Friday, 22nd January, 2021


Did you know that Primark don’t sell online? Of course you did!

In the days of online shopping, I’ve seen almost every clothes store offer some kind of online shopping, big and small. There’s been one notable fashion brand to resist (so far!), Primark.

All their competitors are online, and with the uncertainty of the high street not to mention lockdowns, some may say they’re missing a trick.

But they’re not.

This is why Primark should not sell online in my opinion.

Primark Is Cheap Affordable Clothing – Online Shopping Doesn’t Fit Their Business Model

Despite what you might hear, running an online fashion business isn’t easy or cheap. There’s tons of costs, and while there’s no stores, there’s warehousing, staffing, websites, while offering the best service to customers at a low price.

The general running, administration and maintenance of a huge online presence is a mammoth task. It’s the same task whether your customer is buying 1 £2 T-shirt, or doing a £200 haul.

Yes, cheap fast fashion brands do exist online, but most are online-only. They have to save the cost somewhere, which usually comes down to quality and service.

There’s other drawbacks too…

Delivery Is Expensive

Whether you want to send out a pair of socks or an entire outfit, delivery costs are expensive. Generally speaking, online shops offer a standard price for delivery, no matter what you order. Some will even offer free delivery.

How much would it cost to deliver a £2 pair of socks? How much would you be willing to pay? It’s not really viable.

Returns Are A Nightmare

Then there’s the dreaded returns.

In the UK the law is that a retailer has to refund the customer the total cost of their purchase, including delivery. That means all online shops lose the cost of the original delivery, as this has to be given back to the customer.

A lot of other shops even offer free returns, which costs the retailer even more.

Then there’s the time and cost of actually processing a return.

Online returns are such a problem that ASOS changed their terms which seen them could have banned ‘serial returners’ [source]. This shows how much of a big problem it is.

Customer Service Is Hard For Huge Brands

Returns are not simple, even when you think they are. From the retailers point of view, there’s a lot of work. The return has to be requested by the customer, it has to then come back, be checked, processed, inform & refund the customer and put the stock back.

Put that together with general customer services, tracking orders for customers, missing items, damaged goods and so much more.

All of the above cost a lot of money, which in turn would mean higher costs or possibly a loss of quality.

You don’t want to be the brand that has a vast number of negative reviews not because of your product, but because the service wasn’t up to par. It’s easier to get this right with stores with good in-store personnel.

There’s Too Much Competition Online

When it comes to cheap clothes online, there’s TONS of competition. The likes of Boohoo, and PrettyLittleThing already offer rock bottom prices. Then there’s the likes of Missguided and ASOS who are basically the high street online.

You’ve got the other high street shops and brands too, which have bricks and mortar shops like Primark, but an e-commerce presence too.

Then there’s the tons of other cheap shops, along with eBay and Amazon. These places are mostly online-only and don’t operate on the high street.

At the cheapest end of the spectrum, it’s sadly been a race to the bottom in terms of prices, quality and service.

Why would you want to go up against all of that?

They’ve Already Tried It (Kind Of)

Primark have been online before, kind of. I remember years ago when Primark trialled selling online. It was actually on ASOS. This was back in 2013, and the trial ended, with Primark stating it wouldn’t sell online.

Back in 2013, George Weston, chief executive of Associated British Foods (who own Primark) said:

“The trial has ended and we are exploring our options, but as you can imagine, the margins are so small that it can be difficult to sell a £3 t-shirt when you’re spending the same amount just to ship it.

“The shipping costs for an online business it the key reason why online-only retailers can’t compete with us.”


Stores Would Suffer

If Primark went online I think their stores would likely suffer. A large number of people would not bother going in store if they could buy online. Customers are scattered across the country, so most if not all stores would be less busy but not empty.

That means each store would probably be down on profits/turnover as each one would lose a portion of customers to their own online store.

They’d likely be in a kind of limbo of having shops that weren’t really as great anymore, but not terrible either.

Effectively they’d not only be competing with other brands, but themselves.

How Primark Succeed On The High Street While Others Fail

I can sum up how I think Primark have succeeded on the high street while others have failed in one word: Brand. It’s all about the branding.

While there’s been a whole host of high street fashion brands fail and department stores go down, Primark has stood the test of time. We’ve had recessions and a decline in the high street, but Primark remains strong.

Why? The branding.

When you want to buy something from Primark, you go to a Primark store. It’s got huge brand recognition. In comparison to the failed department stores, people used to go to the high street just to buy a ‘thing’. It wasn’t about the brand, it was just consumerism.

When they realised that could buy a ‘thing’ online, many left the high street.

After the first big lockdown in 2020, people were queuing from 5AM around the country just to go to Primark. This isn’t rare luxury fashion, it’s not the latest iPhone on release day, it’s not the greatest concert that’s about to be sold out.

It’s just clothing. People were willing to get out of bed in the early hours and stand in a long queue for Primark.

That is brand power.


While many shops leave the high street one way or another, Primark remain strong. I think this will continue to be the case for as long as the brand is loved by it’s customers.

If they can keep the brand value going I think it will remain offline only, or at least be the “last store standing” on the high street if and when the end comes.

RELATED: If you’re interested in online shopping, check out my post on the best high street fashion brands online.

Michael Adams

About Michael

Michael Adams is the founder and editor of Michael 84, blogger from Newcastle, UK. Sharing men's fashion tips, style advice and lifestyle information for all guys.

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