The Covid-19 pandemic hastened the move by many consumers to online shopping, and was the final nail in the coffin for some big high-street brands, including Debenhams.
In spite of this, leading Irish fast-fashion retailer Penneys (or Primark as it is known in the rest of the world and at a corporate level) has eschewed e-commerce and stuck with its bricks-and-mortar sales model. Not that it doesn’t have a presence online, it has 24 million active social media followers, according to its chief executive Paul Marchant, who gave a talk to EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year retreat in Killarney on Thursday.
In an interview with EY partner Roger Wallace, Marchant told the Irish entrepreneurs that the group remains “big fans” of bricks and mortar. “We’ve got a very aggressive store opening plan for the next few years, we’ve added 25 stores in Covid, over a million square feet of selling space, across eight countries. So we continue to expand our bricks-and-mortar proposition and that will still be very much top of our agenda,” he said.
“I get asked the ‘will you go online?’ question about 20 times a day. The fact is we’ve got a business that is very successful, very profitable and a model that is able to be rolled out across many markets and many countries and that is our prime focus. However, we always recognise that if customer demands mean that we need to think about another route to market then we’ve got to discuss that, be open minded. But any change in strategy from bricks and mortar needs to be genuinely incremental and enhancing, and until we can find a model that enables us to do that then we’ll stick with what we’re doing.”
Penneys/Primark seems to be doing fine, as it happens. It will shortly open in Sicily, which will be its 400th store globally. And a trading update last month by its parent group, Associated British Foods, noted that sales in the second half of its financial year are expected to be £3.4 billion (€4 billion) and its operating profit margin in the period will be more than 10 per cent.