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Take no comfort from the success of Primark

The Independent newspaper naively suggested this week that “the cheap and cheerful clothes retailer’s success suggests that there is a future for bricks and mortar stores”.

Why do so many of us try to treat all retailers the same? Primark stores work because you can’t shop Primark online, you don’t want to shop Primark online and because Primark customers have no expectations of availability, consistency or service.

In what ways does this describe any other retailer, aside from a small handful of clothing discounters that trade in the gaps between Primark’s relatively few locations? And yet, the media and the analysts and the tech industry are content to talk about retailers as if they were all the same, threatened by the same dynamics and all trying to deliver a better customer experience.

The truth is that all retailers are on a unique journey to the future, some heavily store-based and others primarily online. Lucky Primark, that its future lies in-store; tell that to the growing number of retailers that are having to decide whether they have any bricks-and-mortar future.

Being treated like they are all the same doesn’t help retailers as they search for the right technology and partners to help them deliver their own unique vision of success. And it doesn’t help the vendors find customers if they treat all of their prospects broadly the same.

Retailers are nervous right now about making the wrong decisions about technology, which explains why so many vendors are facing ever-lengthening sales cycles. They are worried that they will choose a technology that does not work, or takes too long to implement, or delivers only marginal value, or is supplied by a company that cannot support their product, or a technology that will be made redundant by something new that is three times better and three times cheaper. And so on.

Clearly then, the lesson for vendors is to understand who you are going after first and try to get under the skin of their business, before you fire off your standardised marketing and sales guns.

Vendors hit back by saying that retailers don’t share, when in truth they have never been more open. The trick is to spend more time looking for clues, asking more of the right questions and having the courage to qualify out earlier in the cycle those retailers that are simply not going to buy your solution.

By all means start with a challenge common to all retailers – how to get more value out of working capital. After that, no two retailers are the same. There’s only one Primark.


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