Primark enjoyed an all-time record week of trading as staff welcomed customers back into stores in England and Wales for the first time this year.
But bosses say the reopening on April 12 has been different to those last summer and in the run-up to Christmas with shopping habits changing, and they claimed: “Fashion is back.”
With an apparent end to the Covid-19 pandemic in sight, shoppers are buying more outfits for going out, rather than stay-at-home comfort clothes, and are also making specific trips to city centre stores.
John Bason, finance chief of the retailer’s parent company Associated British Foods (ABF), explained to the PA news agency: “Our week goes Sunday through to Saturday. So, from Monday to Saturday – those six days are comfortably ahead of any seven-day period of Primark sales in England and Wales ever.
“Many individual stores broke their own sales records. We were all excited in the lead-up to Christmas last year, but we’re beating the Christmas weeks.”
He added that there has also been a shift in the spread, with pre-Covid trading typically concentrated in lunchtimes, evenings and weekends and the items being bought.
The finance chief said: “This is our emergence from the third lockdown. If you compare it to the people coming back in June of last year, and December of last year – those trends were characterised by people still buying clothes in terms of lockdown, easy to wear clothes.
“What is striking this time is, fashion is back… It feels like people are thinking more about what they’re going to wear when they go out with friends or go out to dinner and all those social occasions.”
Primark also saw that the most improved store sales were in city centres, whereas previous lockdown reopenings focused on strong sales in retail parks.
Mr Bason said: “We’ve seen big improvements in our city centre stores – in Manchester and Birmingham in particular. It wasn’t just retail parks that saw strongest growth – it’s been across our estate. The most improved stores are those in city centres.
“City centres have needed office workers and, when it comes to London, tourists. Tourism hasn’t come back at the moment and offices are coming back.
“But people are making special trips. Our Oxford Street stores have been very busy, whereas they were not on the other two lockdown reopening occasions.”
Asked whether the past 12 months has helped encourage Primark to finally embrace online sales, Mr Bason said it had not.
He said: “I’m going to be the last finance director to say it was a great 12 months. We’ve lost £3 billion in sales and about £1 billion in profit. So, we’re talking big numbers.
“But what you’ve got to do is keep your mind on what’s the business model going forward… We are very distinctive, we’re the best value around and you can’t get our value online.”