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Popular value fashion retailer, Primark, launched a click-and-collect service today, after saying that it did not plan to move to an online model last year—but the site promptly crashed, albeit temporarily.

The trial run only covers children’s wear (kids, baby, and nursery products), about 2,000 lines in all, and they are available in 22 stores across the North West of England, and three in North Wales. Primark, which is the biggest money spinner, by far, for owner Associated British Foods, says that some of the products are exclusive to online and not available in the retailer’s 190 stores in the U.K.

Items can be collected from two days after an online order with a £15 ($17.70) minimum value. From a sustainability perspective, Primark will minimize excess packaging for pick-ups. Orders will be delivered to stores in brown paper or cardboard boxes sealed with paper tape (and paper void-fillers if required) to enable easy home recycling.

Primark has, for the longest time, resisted moving online, restating time and again its commitment to physical retailing. Even during the pandemic when its rivals were scrambling to attract shoppers on the web, Primark was resolute.

The click-and-collect launch is not likely to be Primark’s first step to a full online service. Even today, on launch day, the retailer stated that the digital trial would “offer customers more choice, greater convenience and more reasons to visit their local high street.”

Delivering more shoppers to stores

Primark’s strategy continues to be focused on being the anchor fashion retailer in main streets and out-of-town outlets, with a focus on elevating in-store experiences. This afternoon, Primark’s CEO Paul Marchant, confirmed that view, telling the BBC: “We are massive fans of brick and mortar. We believe in the high street.”

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But could that position be counterproductive? The outage of the site today shows the extent of the demand out there. Louise Deglise-Favre, apparel analyst at data and analytics company GlobalData said: “Consumers have long been waiting for Primark to embrace digital retail, and even with a limited launch the website crashed this morning due to high volumes of visitors.”

A February survey* by GlobalData revealed that 77% of British consumers would purchase from Primark online if it only offered click-and-collect as a fulfillment option. However, the appetite for a fully transactional service with delivery is also high. Deglise-Favre said: “Some of Primark’s younger consumers are keen to shop online, with almost two-thirds of those aged 16-24, and over 70% of 25-34-year-olds indicating they would prefer shopping online to in-store if Primark offered the option.”

GlobalData believes that Primark’s lack of a transactional website has limited the retailer’s recovery from the pandemic, pointing to global like-for-like sales remaining 10% below pre-pandemic levels in FY21/22 (ending September 2022). “The website mishap indicates a high level of consumer curiosity in Primark’s first foray into digital retail. It shows (also) that the retailer needs to strengthen its online capacity,” said Deglise-Favre.

Primark does not see it quite like that. In FY21/22 the retailer generated £7.7 billion in sales, 45% of ABF’s total revenue of £17 billion but more than half (53%) of its profit. The results rebound, revealed on November 8, pushed ABF’s stock higher and it is now trending 18% above a month ago.

As such, Primark is continuing with plans to build a new store pipeline across Europe and the United States, with flagships like Primark in State Street in Chicago. The retailer says it will open 27 new stores this financial year, 10 before Christmas, and that will add one million square feet of retail selling space.

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