On June 15, when non-essential retailers in England reopened for the first time since the country imposed a lockdown in late March, it unleashed a wave of pent up demand. At Primark, a Dublin-based clothing retailer, giant lines formed to enter its stores. For many shoppers eager to buy its super-cheap clothes, it was the first time in months they could get them, since Primark still doesn’t sell online.
In that regard Primark has taken a very different approach than other large fashion retailers, most of which have been investing heavily in their e-commerce. Companies such as H&M and Zara have focused on reducing store counts and beefing up their digital sales. In response to the pandemic, Zara said recently it would close as many as 1,200 stores while investing $1.1 billion in its online capabilities over the next three years. Primark, meanwhile, has previously said its growth comes from increasing its physical selling space.
With 373 stores as of its last fiscal year—about half of them in the UK—Primark has a lot more room for physical expansion than a company like Zara, which had 2,142 stores at the end of its 2019 fiscal year. But it may have another good reason for not selling online: The economics don’t work for the company, according to a June 16 research note by investment firm UBS.