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.”