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Portas: Primark is destroying UK indies

Retail guru Mary Portas has launched a dramatic assault on Primark and the value sector, claiming it has “bastardised” good taste and “annihilated” indie retailing.

Speaking at an event to promote retailing in Leeds, Portas said that indies were in danger of being “eaten up” by the value operators.

She said: “With the rise of value chains like Primark what hope is there for the quality retailer? When Primark launched, the fashion press called it ‘Primarni’. What bullshit.”

Portas said that the easy, quick-purchase nature of the value sector meant shoppers were too turned on to instant gratification, rather than browsing for quality products.

“Unless we give a voice to [independents] and change consumer habits, the supermarkets will take over and we will lose the heart and soul of independent shopping.”

According to data from retail research firm TNS Worldpanel Fashion, indies saw their market share dip 0.6% to 7% over the 12 weeks to June 21. By contrast, clothing multiples, which includes the value sector, saw their share lift 1.6% to 27% over the same period.

However, leading value sector chief executives hit back with a stinging attack on Portas, saying they were simply “giving shoppers what they want”.

Tesco clothing chief executive Terry Green said: “The quality of Tesco’s clothing is as good as anything on the high street. What’s wrong with giving value for money?”

Others argued that there remained a strong place on the high street for indies in spite of the value sector’s success. Peacocks Group chief executive Richard Kirk said: “It is very important to have independent retailers and a mix on the high street. But some people want to shop value because they can’t afford the kind of stores Mary Portas shops in.”

Primark declined to comment.

Meanwhile, leading indies said they supported Portas’ call for more to be done to help their sub-sector, but most said they did not believe Primark was a true competitor.

Mark Bage, owner of designer indie Sarah Coggles in York, said: “Value retailers attract a different customer. When shoppers realise their wardrobes are full of cheap clothes they revert to indies.”

Jan Shutt, owner of Sunday Best in Rawtenstall in Lancashire, added: “We have to keep one step ahead of the high street with product that is special and through service.”

Verdict Research lead analyst Maureen Hinton agreed: “Larger retailers have the power but shoppers don’t want a cookie cutter offer. It is difficult for indies but there is a shift away from consumers buying large volumes of clothing.”

Readers' comments (21)

  • Mary is so accurate - I own a lingerie business and so many women loose out on quality products as they shop by price. We need Mary to push on with this campaign - maybe a new tv series? I'd love to see Mary at my business!

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  • There does have to be some restaints placed upon the value sector especially the likes of Tesco as they are keen to move into the branded sector and with their sole purpose to provide value at whatever expense to the high street there seems to be no stopping them. Thankfully like Next they do not seem to know their market and were quick to give up with the brand directory.

    What people need to do is realise that what they are buying from these value brands is cheap, will always looks cheap, won't last more than a few washes and is on the back of every other body from size 6 to 26.

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  • I'd love to see Mary at my business!

    Me Too!!!

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  • Buy less clothes of a higher quality that last longer.

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  • What drivel! I have long thought that Ms Portas is a self-opinionated, publicity seeking, so-called 'expert', who is so out of touch as to be almost irrelevant. The problem with the Indies is not the Primarks of this world - there will always be a market for them - it is more that the exorbitant costs associated with running a High Street or Shopping Centre outlet automatically mean that the retail prices charged are often unreasonably high.

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  • Having visited Primark for the first time in 18 months or so yesterday, I would only agree with Mary Portas as far as the very young market is concerned, or as previously commented those who genuinely can't afford anything better. As a shopping experience I would rate it on par with having one's kidneys removed with a dessert spoon and no anaesthesia. If indies are proactive around merchandising, reacting to their area demographic and regular customers' preferences their efforts are unlikely to go unrewarded.

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  • darren hoggett

    It should be remembered that many lower to middle/middle market brands are helping the likes of Tesco and Primark as they continually push further and further upmarket, further and further out of reach of the consumer. If many brands got their act together and stopped being so reliant on naive and idealistic marketing departments, the likes value sector might not have it quite so easy.

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  • Drapers, removing a post without reason doesn't make for constructive comment/arguement, just a watered down and get in line or else dominant dictatorship.

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  • Problem is that too many chains are:
    - overpricing themselves, going for 400% profits and
    - buying wrong styles, or having their own designers who know nothing.

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  • I'd say it's the way people shop and how much or little value they place in their wardrobes that has changed. Not to point the finger at any particular retailer. Most people don't have the luxury of 'browsing for quality products,' - we mustn't forget that! As for the designer market, I note that it is now possible to buy a pair of UK made bespoke shoes for less than the price of an off-the-peg pair of Balenciaga. Someone is profiteering somewhere - are we surprised when there is a backlash?

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