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Counting the cost

How will Primark be affected by the BBC’s child labour exposé? Drapers commissioned an exclusive ICM poll to find out.

After the recent flurry of negative publicity surrounding Primark and its suppliers, 42% of the value chain’s customers say they are less likely to shop there in the next six months, according to an exclusive ICM Research poll commissioned by Drapers.

ICM quizzed more than 1,000 consumers last week on their shopping habits, their visits to Primark, what they had heard in the news recently about Primark and whether this news coverage would affect their future spending at the chain. The survey breaks down the answers by age, gender and social class and cross compares each sub-sector against the question, “How likely are you to shop at Primark in the next six months?”
The poll finds that of the 41% who shop at Primark, 68% are aware of the retailer’s recent child labour issues, which were highlighted by a BBC TV Panorama documentary watched by 4.2 million viewers last week.

38% of Primark shoppers say they have also heard in the news about Primark’s suppliers in India. The retailer axed three Indian factories featured in Panorama because they had sub-contracted work to children.

A breakdown of Primark’s shoppers by age group (see table) shows that the retailer is most popular among 18- to 44-year-olds. Breaking this down further, 2% of 18- to 24-year-olds say they shop with the retailer every week, while 12% of the same age group say they shop at Primark every few months. 48% of Primark’s shoppers in the 18 to 24 age category say they have heard about child labour in relation to Primark and 62% of Primark shoppers who have heard something about the retailer in the news say they are now less likely or a lot less likely to shop there in the next six months. This age group has the biggest proportion of shoppers that have been turned off by negative publicity. A net balance of 40% of Primark shoppers aged between 25 and 34 say they are less likely or a lot less likely to shop at the retailer because of recent news reports, while 38% of shoppers in the 35- to 44-year-old category say are less likely or a lot less likely to shop there.

However, 25% of shoppers in the 18- to 24-year-old category, 44% of shoppers in the 25 to 34-year-old age group and 38% of shoppers between 35 and 44 say they are neither more nor less likely to shop at Primark following the negative headlines.

Whether as many as 42% of Primark’s shoppers will actually turn their back on the retailer’s cheap fashions remains to be seen. Only 3% of those polled say ethical production is an important consideration to them about whether or not to shop with any retailer.

More important is value for money, with 46% of respondents saying it is a key factor in deciding where to buy their clothes. 31% of those polled say product quality is also a contributory factor. The desire to follow the latest trends also comes surprisingly low in the rankings, with just 7% of shoppers saying that this is important to them, but this rose to 24% within the 18- to 24-year-old category.

Unsurprisingly, just 5% of shoppers say they shop in Primark because of its ethically produced products and 66% cite value for money as their reason for shopping there.

The most diehard Primark fans – those that shop there once a week or more – are the least deterred by the retailer’s recent negative publicity, with a net balance of just 7% of these shoppers saying they are now less likely or a lot less likely to shop there. However, 15% of regular shoppers – those that shop at Primark on a monthly basis – say they are less keen to shop at the chain in the next six months. This would be a worrying customer category for Primark to haemorrhage.

As the average shopping frequency decreases, to those shopping once every few months and those shopping less frequently than once every six months, still 15% of Primark’s shoppers in each category say they are less keen on shopping at the retailer. 42% of those that shop at Primark less frequently than once every six months say they are now less likely to shop at the chain.

Among social class groups, Primark is most popular for shopping with C2s, the skilled working class, and C1s, the lower middle class. 52% of C2s surveyed say they have shopped with the retailer while 47% of C1s say they have also shopped at Primark. Within the social class breakdown, 66% of both C2 and C1 Primark shoppers say they have heard about child labour allegations while 37% of C2s and 42% of C1s say they have heard about Primark’s Indian suppliers in the news.

A net balance of 50% of Primark’s C2 customers say they are now less likely or a lot less likely to shop with the chain because of the recent news. A net balance of 41% of the retailer’s C1 shoppers concurred.

The question remains as to whether falling disposable income and a thirst for cheap clothes among both younger shoppers and less affluent classes will help Primark trade through the slew of negative publicity.

Primark’s reaction
An extract from Primark’s right to reply to Panorama, published on its website on Monday 23 June:

“Primark is an ethical, principled and responsible organisation. Under our code of conduct, children are forbidden to work on clothes produced for us and none of our suppliers has our permission to sub-contract production.

“Production of the garments was sub-contracted without Primark’s knowledge or consent to third parties using unauthorised home workers, including children.

“As soon as we had verified the facts we immediately cancelled all new orders with the factories and withdrew the items from sale. The affected garments represent 0.04% of Primark’s worldwide sourcing.

“The issues highlighted by Panorama are industry-wide and that is why Primark works with governments, campaigners, retailers and industry bodies to try to solve them.”

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