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3rd December 2022

Primark goes online – RIP sustainable fashion

Primark has announced they’re moving online. But why? Is this really necessary for an already successful company?
Primark goes online – RIP sustainable fashion
Photo: Tim Dennell @ Flickr

Primark is now trialling a click-and-collect service across 25 UK stores in the North-West, Yorkshire, and North Wales. The service includes all the in-store options from home and beauty, men and women to kids items. If all is successful, Primark hopes to expand the service to more stores across the UK. However, does this really have consumer comfort in mind or profitability?

Previous to this, Primark has always been in-store only. But why? Surely a move online would increase profits? Apparently not. Primark’s low prices make e-commerce challenging according to competitors. Peter Williams, former chairman of ASOS, Boohoo and Superdry spoke out, stating, “Given the Primark low pricing and narrow gross margin structure, it is difficult for the online channel to be profitable.”

Primark’s Finance Chief confirms this concern, explaining that “one-third of clothes get returned [and] that means someone has to pick it up, someone has to deliver it, someone in the store has to take it back, refold it. It doesn’t work at the lower price point.”

Online shopping has been the preferred retail experience for many shoppers for a while now. Younger generations, considered as a whole, have less of an inclination to shop in physical stores. E-commerce offers a simplified quick shopping experience, hence why it’s favoured by consumers. But digital shopping has thrown the high street into crisis. It is predicted that by 2030, nearly half of all high street shops will close. Primark’s click-and-collect service is only the beginning of a downward spiral of high street decline.

Despite this, the final push which forced the move to online shopping was the Coronavirus. At the height of the national lockdown, stores had to close. Yet even when retailers were permitted to re-open, shoppers were wary, and often reluctant, to venture into crowded spaces like clothing shops. For this reason, many have praised Primark’s attempts to move online. Online shopping provides the opportunity for those at higher risk of Covid-19 to shop. Although packages must still be collected in-store, the option to select pieces and create an order beforehand is reassuring.

What should be given equal consideration is the importance of fast fashion, or  affordable clothing, amidst the cost-of-living crisis. Of course, access to food, water, and energy takes precedence over clothing, but mass inflation will, without a doubt, change how society shops for clothing. Limited budgets for essential clothing items, like school uniforms, will push consumers in search of affordable options towards fast-fashion chains. In this case, Primark’s click-and-collect policy, especially given that it makes infant clothing ranges more accessible, has certainly come at the right time.

Yet from an environmental point of view, the move towards digital shopping is far from favourable. Major contributors to the environmental impact of shopping are excess packaging and carbon emissions from speedy-delivery services. Online shopping also creates an enormous amount of waste, most of which will have to go to landfill, which could have been avoided if clothing had been tried on in-store. There’s no need to make fast fashion more accessible.

But, perhaps what does need to change, is the availability of affordable sustainable clothing. Sustainable clothing brands have long upheld the stigma of being expensive, hard to come by, and of often selling unfashionable, dated styles. For this to change, there needs to be an increase in demand for sustainable clothing. Brittany Burns, Director of Strategy and corporate development at the non-profit Fashion for Good explains that “As [new] innovations become more mainstream, [this] drives the prices down. There’s a shift that has to happen.”

Independant fashion label AYM-Studio is an example of a fashion-conscious sustainable brand. Their pieces are modern, elegant and high-quality. Attention is given to wearability and timelessness. Although their price-point may be higher than the average high-street shopper usually spends, AYM expects customers to rewear and keep their pieces for a number of years. Although it’s admirable that Primark tentatively pushes for an inclusive shopping experience, we cannot ignore the inevitable impact their move online will have on the environment.

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