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When Brick-and-Mortar is Enough

Online shopping continues to grow, but clearly it isn't for everyone. Primark, for example, a major retailer operating stores in the UK and Ireland, recently announced that it would not pursue an e-commerce investment after finishing a pilot project with ASOS, one of the UK's largest online apparel retailers.

"The best way to get profitable growth is on the high street," said John Bason, finance director of Associated British Foods, which owns Primark.

Instead, the company told Information Age, it will expand its retail space by a million square feet in the next financial year.

This approach shows a very intelligent strategy to 'test and learn' and even 'fail fast' without betting the business. It's very Thoughtworks, in fact.

Primark is not alone in its decision to focus on brick-and-mortar, and I wonder if this is to do with being in segments at either end of the apparel and fashion spectrums. The mass 'middle market' is just so competitive. Step slightly outside of it and there are some interesting observations.

Recently, for example, I spent some time with Value Retail. The company operates Chic Outlet Villages at Bicester Village (UK), Kildare Village (Irl), several others across Europe, with a new village to open in China in 2014. Value Retail is one of the most successful retailers in the world, with incredibly beautiful, sophisticated shopping experiences catering to the luxury tastes of overseas tourists and local visitors.

And it has no e-commerce offering.

What does this suggest? I believe it proves that if your customer experience is fully focused, the value point spot-on, and the mix of environment, experience, and value well-balanced, customers will come to shop and return again and again.

As Primark and Value Retail have discovered, the physical shopping experience still has a strong place for many consumers. Key to staying ahead of the competition is a mix of spotting new trends, embracing experimentation and innovation, and then making informed business decisions that meet your customers’ needs. And that might very well be on the high street.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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