How Primark reinvented The Department Store and made the biggest store ever

By guest author Cally Russell Contributor of Retail at Forbes and writes about Europe’s retail industry and all things tech start-up

A couple of weeks ago I popped into the newly-opened largest ever Primark—located in the heart of Birmingham in a vast five-story building which used to be a mall housing a total of 49 different retailers! It is so large that it has actually now made it into the Guinness World Records as the biggest clothing store in the world.

Primark main entrance in Birmingham (all captions courtesy of Forbes

Primark already has 365 stores across the U.K. and Europe and this investment in opening a megastore of this size comes at a time when most retailers are looking to reduce their store footprint or even removing themselves entirely from physical locations.

The size and diversification of the offering mean it’s not really fair to consider this as a singular shop, it’s not… it’s a department store in its own right, but one built for shoppers of all ages and with a very accessible average order value (AOV).

Opened on April 11. 2019, and encompassing a massive 160000 square foott-making it 10,000 sqare foott larger than Primarks previous flagship store in Manchester, it feels like more of a leisure destination than a “bargain” store. For example, there are three separate food venues, a Disney shopping area, a nail bar, hair and beauty studio – in partnership with London’s Duck & Dry, a barbers shop and a Hogwarts Wizarding World area. Such a mix of activities in one store quickly highlights how diverse the Primark customer base really is.

Clearly designed to appeal to teens there is even a “snap and share” room where groups of friends can take in as many clothes as they want, set the lighting and the music and then film and photograph themselves on their phones and upload them to social media. This enforces the fun “day out” element of the store and is putting sociability back into the shopping experience, it’s also a very clever marketing move by Primark as it is essentially encouraging customers to act as influencers to drive free marketing.

For a brand which has avoided an online shopping presence, having customers showcase authentically how much fun can be had while shopping in Primark is a genius marketing ploy to attract footfall… and with their low price points Primark knows that once people visit they don’t leave empty-handed and are likely to stay for several hours.

The Harry Potter Section

The Primark model is to make profits on volume and relies on low prices to entice customers to spend more while in store. Shoppers in Primark act differently than shoppers in other fashion retailers—they have more of a Costco shopper mentality thinking in terms of volume and value, than someone driven by quality and special pieces.

Primark have stuck to their tried and tested high volume low price formula but in a store of this size what I really noticed was the diversification of own product—items were available in a huge variety of colourways and styles—catering for all ages and tastes

Furthermore whilst the standard Primark purchase might historically have been clothing, large sections of the store are now filled by beauty and home products—for some consumers, it really is a one-stop shop and you really need never go anywhere else!

The Beauty Bar

Whilst Primark actively attracts a broad demographic the store is clearly split into defined sections making it easy to shop the product you want and enabling the camera shy to avoid places like the Selfie Room. The store has a bright and airy feel with plenty of open space and fun local signposting and decor. The use of local monuments and sayings in the male section clearly plays to the Brummie stereotype and works to convince the shopper that whilst Primark might be a large brand it’s got a local feel to it.

Primark will celebrate its 50th birthday this summer so it feels unjust to describe it as one of the new breed of fast fashion discount retailers – instead I think it is actually pioneering a new breed of retailer – one that knows exactly who its customers are and caters for the whole family managing to offer everyone the product and experience they want, so long as it can be delivered at the right price

Maybe with this approach, Primark have shown us what the future of retail should really look like and what brands need to do to adapt to our changing high streets?

The question however is… do our traditional department stores have the resources and desire to change to survive? Or will that large Debenhams or House of Fraser on your local high street end up being a Primark department store in the coming months and years?

The approach to the food venues has also clearly been thought through to ensure there is something for everyone in the family—from the Disney Cafe for the kids, the neon coffee shop with ‘decorate your own doughnuts’ for the teenagers and the chilled out pizza place for Mum and Dad. This same split customer approach can be seen in the different look and feel of the beauty salon and the men’s barbers.