The world’s biggest Primark is opening its doors to shoppers in Birmingham.
Covering 161,000 sq ft over five floors, and with a Disney cafe plus two other eateries, a barber shop and beauty studio, as well as homewares and fashion, it could spell a new generation for the department store.
Primark said the store was a chance for it to do something “special”.
But with big names such as Debenhams and House of Fraser in decline, can this new vision for Primark attract more young people back into bricks and mortar stores?
The company said the shop, in the former Pavillions Shopping Centre on High Street, would offer “an enhanced shopping experience” and be four times the size of its former city location around the corner in New Street.
It takes the “largest” crown from Manchester, which currently has the world’s biggest Primark.
Such is the anticipation for its opening, expected to attract about 5,000 people, public transport companies have taken to publishing travel advice.
The retailer said it had created more than 500 new jobs, as well as moving 430 from its previous shop.
The development is thought to have cost about £70m, an eye-watering sum at a time when high street heavyweights are closing branches.
Earlier this week, Debenhams was taken over by its lenders as part of an administration process.
Analysts have previously claimed a lack of investment and innovation was a contributing factors to why traditional department stores were in decline.
Despite criticism over staff pay, and the environmental and social impact of so-called “fast fashion”, Primark’s allure continues to grow.
Last year it reported higher UK sales and plans for more stores.
It justifies its low prices with claims it spends nothing on advertising and has tight profit margins.
Heiner Evanschitzky, professor of marketing at Aston Business School, said part of Primark’s success was its clear business model – which is focused and means “people know what they are going to get”.
“It is not like Debenhams and M&S, which struggled because they were trying too many different things. They were not positioned in a meaningful way – they have discount elements, high fashion elements and were all over the place,” he said.
And having no online store means shoppers still have to go into stores to make purchases.
Mr Evanschitzky said this fitted Primark’s “lean” operation in a way that might not suit other high-end brands – and also encouraged impulse shopping.
“In-store you have the chance to inspire a customer, you get to say ‘look around, browse, think of things you weren’t planning on buying’.”
Offering free wi-fi and phone charging points would also help encourage people to spend time in the huge store and create more sales, he said.
“It is something quite unique for a discounter like Primark to do,” Mr Evanschitzky said.
He also said the store opening would be a “huge gain” for the city centre, and it would be up to other retailers to do what they could to make the most of the added footfall it would bring.
Understand what customers want
Retail analyst Kate Hardcastle, from Insight with Passion, said people “foolishly” looked at Primark as a discount brand.
“It is anything but,” she said. “They are savvy, they know what they are doing.
“The easiest way to describe the department shops of old was they were too lazy, they stopped putting the customer and changing demands at the heart of their vision.
“They very much took footfall for granted, they always thought if they opened their doors, people would come.
“Primark understands what customers want and built their business around it.”
Ms Hardcastle said expanding “experience retail”, with things such as beauticians and beauty bars at value prices, and using links with big name franchises including Disney – and Harry Potter through Warner Brothers – would bring in more customers.
“Primark do a fantastic job of bringing in fast-moving fashion to the high street, but it is also a family shop which is accessible and affordable,” she added.
She said the brand’s lack of online presence also made the most of “emotional spending”.
“When you think of Primark – there is just so much stuff, you go in for one thing and get more and more. Online, you would lose a lot of those purchases,” she said.
Fashion blogger Hayley Warren said she thought the new superstore would attract people from outside the West Midlands.
The 29-year-old, from Birmingham, who runs Strangeness and Charm, said: “I know there are a lot of cafes in London which people will visit specifically to take pictures for Instagram, because they have things like flower walls.
“I know people from down south who have said they want to come up and visit Primark just because of Disney.
“Primark is one of the first places I think of looking if there is something I want to buy, because of the prices really, and the fact there is such a high turnover of items and always new things in there.”
Claire Cavanagh, 28, from Coventry, who is behind Vanity Claire, added: “Although I wouldn’t traditionally think of myself as a department store shopper, Primark is the only shop I go where you do pick up everything in that way.
“I will make a special trip to Birmingham especially to go to Primark. I think it is a store people will do that for, even those who wouldn’t normally physically shop in stores – because you can’t get it online.
“I think it will be really good for Birmingham as a destination.”
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Ms Cavanagh said, as a teenager and student, Primark offered her what she wanted in cheap and fashionable clothes, but she now also used it for homeware.
“I have a flat and I’m saving for my first house so I can get some new bits and update my home in the same way I would my wardrobe,” she said.
Primark’s retail director for the UK and northern Europe, Simon Gibbs, said it was proud to be part of the “fabric” of Birmingham.
During an advance tour of the centre on Wednesday, Tim Kelly, its director of new business, said: “We have seen the changing face of retail globally and locally.
“When we were offered the location we jumped at the chance.
“We believe this is an opportunity for Primark to do something really special.”
The store opens at 10:00 BST on Thursday.
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