The Primark EXPERIENCE!

October 09 2014


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by Kyrie Chamberlin, Mercurylab staff

I went a little bit before closing time, which was my first mistake. When you walk in, it’s like a mad house. There are people everywhere, there are clothes all over the floor and there never seems to be enough staff. Everyone looks slightly lost and is constantly bumping into one another.

I went originally to get a gift, but I stayed to buy some affordable fashion for myself. Primark has so much on offer that it’s almost dizzying. Everything is cheap, and cheaply manufactured, but you get what you pay for. That's part of the Primark Experience. You don't go to McDonalds expecting a steak dinner; you go for a super cheap, sometimes questionable burger. Primark isn’t trying to seduce you with nicely crafted, high-end goods—that's not what their brand is about. Their brand attributes: disposable, trendy and fast. Likely not ethically produced, either. This brand has nothing to do with quality. They want you to buy a lot, and you want to as well. That’s part of the sense of urgent anxiety that starts to churn when I’m in their stores.

I ended up buying a couple of dresses, a jacket, and my gift items. The jacket is actually very chic, and you would never know it was from Primark. That’s the good news. Anyway, my second mistake was not trying anything on. I ended up having to return one of the dresses (pink with a crisp white collar) because the collar was not even close to being centered. Don't be too shocked!

The checkout lines are unsurprisingly very long, but they move relatively quickly. This is key because once you are ready to pay, they need to get you out of the store as fast as possible before you reconsider. The clothes are not worth a long wait in line, which they know.

Of course, the returns line is separate from the cashiers. It’s almost like a secret place (hard to find, so hard to return – classic customer manipulation). It’s tucked away on a different floor in a corner on a different, airless floor. The line is deceptively short, but since everyone is returning many items, a complication always ensues. Customers were hot, angry and impatient. Again, this is not surprising, as a store hawking cheap, disposable products is frequently unconcerned with providing a good customer experience – Primark is a fast food shopping experience.

I have to say, I would go back. Primark is so inexpensive, and so well stocked, it’s almost addictive. Although, I never want to return another item, so next time I will have to gather up my courage to attack the dreaded fitting rooms. Help!

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H&M, COS, & Other Stories

August 26 2014

Did any of you know that H&M has launched yet another sub-brand? I was having a meeting with two very chic photo agents, both of whom happened to be wearing the same jumpsuit (they had gone shopping together at & Other Stories on Regent Street in London, and hadn’t checked in with each other that morning before going to work. Hence the twinning element in their clothes that day).


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Anyway, I loved that pantsuit, and so they both fervently suggested that I go shopping at the store, and described it as the mid-range brand between COS and H&M. I wonder if they knew that it is owned by H&M. On their corporate site, H&M states that, “& Other Stories was launched in March 2013, offering an extensive selection of clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery and cosmetics. The brand is all about fashion, with particular focus on quality and design details as well as personal expression and styling.” And they describe COS as “Modern, timeless, tactile and functional. Exploring the concept of style over fashion,” and "high-end design and quality that lives beyond the seasons is available for women, men and children.”


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What I get from their communications writing is that COS sounds more expensive, and has more design integrity than its sister sub-brand. In reality, the clothes are beautifully conceived, well-cut, restrained and chic. The store design feels deluxe and sleek, reinforcing the clean lines and clarity of the design palette. It’s hard to leave the COS store without purchasing something, no matter how small. The retail experience at & Other Stories, on the other hand, felt decidedly down-market, despite the prices. Sharp lighting, cheap display, strange stand-up price markers on the metal, free-standing racks. I was completely underwhelmed, yet the brand is building up speed very quickly. It’s not quite fast fashion, as it’s too pricey, and that position is held by the parent brand in the H&M structure. I can’t even put my finger on their brand, which either means I’m not the target audience (shouldn’t make a difference, as I don’t drink coffee but I understand what the Starbuck’s brand is about) or that all the pieces haven’t yet been knitted together between the clothing design, store design, signage, variety and quality of product. As a self-respecting shopper, I’m happy to stay tuned to see how the holes in their brand are resolved.

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Selling to Your Capabilities: Macy’s Enters the 21st Century

February 19 2014

Continuing along with one of my retail brand obsessions, I’m wondering about Macy’s intentions regarding their Fulton Mall store in Brooklyn. The retail environment on the mall is picking up speed, most recently with the addition of a Banana Republic Factory Store. As I’ve written about before, Macy’s on the mall is a sad, sad store. This Macy’s offers up a hot zero even if you were so parched for shopping that any old purchase would do.

Last month, Macy’s announced that they are going to start looking at their old downtown stores throughout the country with the intention of creating a younger, more urban concept store akin to Bloomingdale’s Soho. Apparently the Brooklyn store is going to be the testing ground for the new concept. Will it help to make our neighborhood Macy’s on the mall a shopping destination? I don’t know. Personally, I love Macy’s Herald Square for their capabilities rather than their attributes. In other words, for their prices. I go there for the crazy markdowns that make me wonder, “What is their retail margin? How do they stay in business with these kind of sales”?

What are Macy's attributes? Comprehensive and democratic (anyone can afford to shop there, particularly with those sales). The store serves every demographic, covering everything from the plus-size Macy’s woman to kids, juniors, and the Rachel Roy shopper (that would be me). Can they start to lay claim to a hipper audience, with the new urban concept, one who is interested in fast fashion, cooler design, urban culture, and sex appeal? This will be an interesting challenge for them as they fight for market share on the mall against H & M for the fast fashionistas, Banana Republic for the office gals and moms, and Century 21 for the middle-of-the-road bargain girls. As always, stay tuned.


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