My Column

Bold moves signal covid fightback

  • Date: Tuesday 7th July 2020
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After three months of lockdown, it seemed ‘P’ was for ‘Primark’ and not ‘Pandemic’ last week as we witnessed unprecedented queues forming across Scotland’s high streets as the value retailer started to reopen some of its stores.


Known best for cheap and cheerful clothing along with its homeware offering, Primark has enjoyed one of the biggest public reactions when opening its doors. People queued out in the rain for hours, many before 5am, just to get their hands on the bargains on offer. So what is it that has caused the nation to join the ‘Primania’ trend?


I am known for my online businesses, so it would be alien to me to consider running a multimillion retail operation without an ecommerce function in 2020 - but that is exactly what Primark are doing. 


Many questioned if ‘Covid-19 will finally kill off the country’s obsession with Primark?’ And, looking back, it seemed a possibility. The coronavirus pandemic had forced the closure of 188 stores around the UK, leaving Primark stuck with an estimated £284m of spring stock, with no opportunity to use lockdown to recoup some of this through an online store.


I’ve covered a few times in my column the importance of businesses being able to adapt in times of crisis, highlighting those companies quickly embracing digital technology to ensure their success during challenging times. Primark, it seems, is one retailer that can buck this trend.


Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF) announced that sales had plummeted by 75% over the past quarter due to the coronavirus lockdown, but reported that sales have been ‘encouraging and reassuring’ after its reopening - boosted further by strong sales in children’s clothes and leisurewear.


Their confidence was taken to the next level as it also announced it has ordered £1 billion worth of new stock for the autumn/winter season. This is a bold and heartening signal of the optimism that custom and spending on non-essential items – could return to pre-lockdown levels swiftly.


Over the last 10 years, Primark has grown on a continuous basis in terms of revenues, number of stores and retail selling space. This is a remarkable achievement in an industry where many shops suffer and close their physical stores and where customers are shifting from high street shopping to online in their droves.


Why does Primark defy the general trends and keep on growing as a physical-only store? Is it the smart buying, the leadership, shopper trends, even luck? I believe it is more about their insistence on its strategy around value and aligning their business around it.


Whether you agree with what Primark stands for or not – the business is doing well due to knowing their DNA and never deviating from it. This means that the company has a very clear strategy around the way they create value for their customers.


Primark offers low prices. But it is not just about the price tag. It is the price combined with its almost infinite selection of fashion items to choose from in their stores. Ultimately, they make fashion accessible to all and offer the Oh-My-God-I-can-buy-all-of-this-and-still-have-money-left experience. That is their value proposition and that is why they are successful.


When we consider Primark in this manner, it perhaps explains why they refrain from also operating an online store. Their strategy is to create a ‘sweetie shop’ of fashion which encourages shoppers to pick up items they didn’t even know they needed. Replicating this ‘grabbing’ experience online is simply much more difficult. 


So what can fellow retailers and business owners learn from Primark? Know your identity, don’t move away from what you stand for and be unapologetic about meeting the needs of your target audience.


Many other companies, in retail and elsewhere, encounter problems doing this. They haven’t pinned down what value they create for their customers and as a result they lack focus and clarity.


Retail is an essential part of Scotland’s communities and is one of the country’s largest employers so I am thrilled to see people back out on the high street and supporting our retailers once more – Iong may it continue as lockdown continues to be eased.


SIDE (275 words)

We’re well into July, which means that we should be in the middle of summer holiday season, but with travelling abroad out of the question, not many of us have plans this year.

However, we’re gradually, and safely, making changes that means holidays are looking more probable.

Throughout the last week, hotel brands have been flooding our inboxes and news screens with the news that they have dates in their diary for opening their doors again.

From 15th July, hotels will be allowed to reopen and thankfully hotels like Apex Hotels, Crieff Hydro and Trump Turnberry will all welcome guests this month.

I think it’s safe to say we all deserve a break, and the hope is that people will choose to spend their valuable time off within the UK and give our tourism sector a well-needed boost.

So it is great to see so many hotels being inundated with bookings for the next few months. Village Hotels released 250,000 rooms for £25 as their reopening offer, which very quickly crashed their website.

It was a similar story for Caledonian MacBrayne as their website went down within minutes due to the number of people trying to book ferries.

Glenapp Castle, which is set to open on the 15th has seen its bookings double, as well as a 15 per cent increase on bookings from June last year.

These success stories, and there are far more of them, are a positive sign that our tourism industry is going in the right direction.

If we all chose to support local Scottish businesses this summer then we can certainly boost the economy whilst also enjoying a well-deserved break.



LAUGH (135 words)

Many of us have had more time on our hands during lockdown. We’re spending that time learning new skills, being outside and doing general DIY around the house.

It’s been the perfect time to do all those tasks which you’ve been meaning to do, but just haven’t gotten round to yet.

One woman in particular has went viral due to her latest DIY venture.

Hoping to give her wooden, slatted wardrobes a new lease of life, she got to work giving them a makeover with fresh white paint.

Sounds good so far, right? Wrong. She made a huge mistake by not taking the clothes out of the wardrobe before painting.

The clothes got a makeover too with bold white stripes emblazed on every item – luckily though it was her husband’s wardrobe and not hers.


WEEP (133 words)

Today is the day that many Scots have been waiting for. Pubs and bars are returning to some sort of normality as beer gardens open across the country from today.

Nicola Sturgeon gave businesses the green light last Thursday and the rule, which also includes street cafes, will see many venues opening for the first time since late March.

This marks the reopening of outdoor hospitality, which for some businesses will be a major lifeline ahead of bars and restaurants opening fully on 15 July.

However in typical Scottish style, the weather forecast for this week looks miserable. Expect constant rain, which means it could well and truly be a washout.

Despite the weather, I’m sure that won’t stop those who are desperate for a pint – I think they might need it.





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