Is Primark too late to the digital party?

So, as reported by Brand Republic, Primark has “put out a tender for a digital agency to build its first ecommerce site, as it looks to tap into the growth in online retail. The site is expected to go live in 2012.” 

If Primark does go ahead with online sales (it hasn’t yet confirmed the rumours), here are four points it needs to consider.

Point 1: Really?

Let’s just take a minute here. As a company involved in retail since 1969, we fear they may have missed the boat in terms of the real glory days of the growth of online retail. They could have been riding the wave some years ago if they’d really got under the skin of online, and we’re surprised they’ve not already cashed in on this. But then I guess they’ve been busy building their 200-plus stores which, contrary to other retailers, do appear to be turning over huge profits. So, as a brand, they are coming to the party late in the day when most of their competitors already have a strong online presence, a clear digital strategy and an online audience. Can Primark step up and take a significant share or should they just keep their head down and pretend they were never interested in generating online sales anyway? Well, with such a strong brand (and a huge global audience) they should absolutely be getting involved. While they’re making mega bucks, they could be making mega mega bucks, and reaching millions more consumers who buy into the brand but don’t necessarily relish the accompanying in-store experience. Done right, the chain’s online market could catapult them into even further heights within the global retail market. 

Point 2: What’s your plan, Stan? 

If Primark are now to suddenly launch into e-commerce, is this a strategic move or one they feel they simply can no longer hide from? Is it simply a chain reaction (excuse the pun) and peer group pressure or can they genuinely produce real projections of what online could do for their business? Done wrong, or done with no clear online business strategy, this could well be a very expensive disaster. Primark sell cheap. Therefore Primark need to sell in huge volumes. Yes this can be achieved online, of course, but many factors need to be considered with regards to the user’s online shopping experience, and why they would buy something online that could potentially cost them more on postage than the item itself.

So many retailers launch themselves online with no clear digital business strategy. Primark needs to ask itself: What do the numbers need to look like? What steps will take us there? What will our audience love about our online offer? What will our digital brand look and feel like? 

Point 3: It’s still there for the taking 

If Primark simply views an e-commerce site as an add-on to its core in-store business, it will fail. However, if it is identified as a business in its own right, it could be a very powerful beast. While most traditional business plans now incorporate online elements, it’s only when the online brand is given its own legs, and true accountability, that amazing things start to happen. Targets are pushed higher. ROI expectations become more demanding. Opportunities for growth present themselves more clearly.

Point 4: Plan to be different

Whatever your online business plan turns out to be, whether it’s modest or ambitious, revolutionary or mainstream, just make sure it’s different. Not different weird, just different individual. Primark, please don’t just do what everyone else is doing. 

Mark Bower is MD of Coolpink

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