Michelle McEttrick, the head of marketing at Primark, met with her counterparts at Boots and Waitrose to explore expanding the in-store experience.
In the 24 weeks ending on March 4, 2023, sales in the UK were up 15% over the same time a year earlier, thanks to increased foot traffic. Sales across the board for ABF, which includes Primark as well as its sugar, food, and farm businesses, increased 21% to £9.56bn.
McEttrick, speaking on a panel at Advertising Week Europe in London this week, avoided discussing the company’s digital offering in favor of emphasizing its “firmly based in bricks and mortar” foundation.According to Primark’s chief customer officer, Michelle McEttrick, “there is a swing post-Covid into the desire for things in the real world,” despite the rapid adoption of ecommerce during lockdown.
The discount clothing business started expanding its digital offering, including click-and-collect services for childrenswear at 25 North West locations, last year. As the trial’s popularity grew in April, it was opened up to an additional 32 participants.
Primark’s parent firm Associated British Foods’ CEO George Weston remarked at the time that the campaign encourages shoppers to buy more, increasing the store’s overall revenue.
She compared Primark to “your couch on a rainy Saturday,” adding that shoppers are more interested in “real life” experiences than in virtual ones when it comes to possibilities to spend money.
She said that Primark is “really smart” for understanding this, since the chain has been offering everything from barbershops and beauty salons to Greggs bakeries inside their stores.
“It’s really just thinking about what are the partnerships that we can bring in to help people have a bit more of a day out,” she said. “Because we’ve seen the UK High Street landscape shrink in terms of the breadth of offer,” she said, emphasizing Primark’s “commitment” to staying there.
The retail landscape in 2023
According to McEttrick, pre-Covid retail is “on the horizon” returning. She predicted that click and collect will once again become popular. “We might see more of a return to […] real convenience propositions,” she stated.
Nathan Ansell, consumer director at Waitrose, agreed with McEttrick’s assessment of how physical retail is changing during his panel discussion. Customers need to be able to “find a reason” to visit physical stores, he said, adding that there is a need for nearly a reimagining of the retail experience to make it more interesting.
Ansell said that since shops “stripped back” on counters and other aspects of the customer experience during lockdowns, the customer experience may be suffering as a consequence. The aftermath from Covid is still having an influence on in-store retail, Ansell said. Customers “want value” regardless, he said.
But have businesses made blunders in their quest for a seamless client experience? Ansell opined: “There’s been a relentless pursuit of removing all the friction from the online customer experience, which in one respect is good,” he added. But “I think that’s frequently left us with quite an antiseptic experience online,” says the author.
A “huge opportunity” exists, he said, for businesses to “broadly” consider how to include a “really good physical retail experience” into the online trip.
If you can do it correctly, there’s a benefit, Ansell said.
Value is “front and center for every retailer at the moment,” according to Pete Markey, Boots’ chief marketing officer. But he was careful to point out that it wasn’t about being the cheapest, but rather about providing “true value for money”.
Customer loyalty is more crucial than ever, he continued, adding that the changes to Boots’ Advantage Card are “like a marketer’s dream” given how close the brand can now get to its customers: “the right offer at the right time for the right channel.” The changes have improved the experience and given additional offers beyond points.
How will customers change from today’s consumers in 2023? According to the Market, “the fundamental consumer needs have largely remained the same.” However, “that’s probably been heightened in terms of [how] we all want really good value.”