With workshop style focus groups to run one evening in Birmingham, I took advantage of my trip to Brum to pay a visit to the newly opened Primark- the world’s biggest Primark that is, and it’s a record breaker. Doing a quick recce online before I went, I could see an article on its website proudly claiming that the Birmingham store is “now officially the largest fashion retail store in the world, with a record breaking 160,100 sq ft of retail space!” That’s a lot of fast fashion.
A quick online dig tells me it’s just opened and is an absolute behemoth of a place, bucking the trend of currently failing department stores. My curious Cx brain kicks in and is desperate to check it out and because I am now heavily pregnant with my first, I start thinking about all the things I could buy whilst there including baby basics such as scratch mitts which are still on the ever expanding list of things to buy. I always buy something in Primark because of the irresistibly low prices so that won’t be a problem, and on discovering just what is in there- I would need to eat lunch and of course, seeing it had a beauty salon, a little bit of pampering wouldn’t go amiss to rest my increasingly swollen feet- I could be tempted to have my nails done in time for Easter.
Three hours of exploring later…
Walking across Birmingham and I see the outdoor ad screens at New Street are scrolling huge digital adverts for the new Primark, building anticipation in an already great city for shopping, you’d have to be walking backwards to miss it.
Google maps tells me the entrance is both by Moor Street and on High street, this leaves me initially a little confused until I get there and realise it’s so huge as I expected but it crosses the entire block. Plus, it has been open for four days so the crowds hustle me in with them, much like a football crowd.
First impression- WOW. The size, the space, the hints of Brummy words and sayings, the blue neon lights that shout ‘hello brum’ and proudly remind you of Primark’s raison d’etre, ‘amazing fashion, amazing prices’ and the empowering ‘find your amazing’. People are gawping and criss crossing around me- there are plenty of signs that indicate what’s where, including store layout- FIVE FLOORS, and street signs that will re-orientate the confused.
The store is bright, fresh, modern, white and blue with great lighting. The products are well positioned with inspiring Visual Merchandising to tempt you. Impressively, plenty of (still smiling) staff are buzzing around with iPads helping people (although I wonder how often people actually use them?) and keeping the products looking tidy. Sheer volume of people means there are huge queues at all till banks and fitting rooms (despite huge numbers of both, all fully staffed) but I observe that they move fairly swiftly. The staff standing at the end of the lines holding ‘queue starts here’ signs are basic but incredibly helpful- nobody wants to find a t-shirt for £2.50 and wait 30 mins to pay, it wouldn’t be worth it.
Extending the offer
I make a beeline for the Duck & Dry Xpress beauty salon, anticipating it would be busy, and I was right. The tills were temporarily down but the friendly staff member took my name and booked me in for an express manicure with gels, for 3pm (2.5 hours later) for a bargain price of £22!
After my scramble around the store, I come back to the salon where a customer can book in for a manicure, pedicure, blow dry, hair style including braids, eyebrows and full make up. It’s raised above the women’s floor, away from the hustle and bustle, has music pumping out and is full of women of all ages, from the under 10s to the over 60s, and at these prices, you can see why.
I’m thrilled with my nails although I do wonder if like the clothes, they might look amazing for a short while and then lose their quality quickly- the jury’s still out, gels normally last a few weeks so I shall see.
I spy ‘The Mezz’ restaurant, so called because it sits on the Mezzanine floor. It has a coffee bar, cold bar with sandwiches, salads and cakes and a hot food bar where I am surprised to see a clay pizza oven where mini pizzas and flatbreads are being thrown in and out for around £5.00. Service was a little stretched as you’d expect within the first week of opening, although I have had similar experiences recently in both John Lewis and M&S. I noticed a few customers being refunded as they considered their wait time to be too long (ear wigging, I heard around 10 mins). The manager was also running food out which is often a sign that things are unravelling and it can take time to recover the service standards (I learnt this hard and fast in management at both McDonald’s and M&S café.)
I personally had no complaints as my food arrived within 3 minutes (pizza brought to my table by the manager). My only complaint would be that the description of the pizza I had ordered, ‘lemon and pea’ was massively underselling what I actually received- a pizza covered in crushed lemon and mint pea, artichoke, butternut squash, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. That, and a can of water (one of the noticeable and plentiful signs that Primark is attempting to be more eco friendly and sustainable) came to £5.75. Simple. Quick. Delicious. I could see all walks of life around me, enjoying a snack, a lunch, or a very much needed caffeine pick me up!
Primark make it incredibly easy for you to stay in store and take your time. There is also a coffee shop in the Barbers on the men’s floor where I had a very nice takeaway peppermint tea in a sustainable cup. There’s another coffee bar (the very trendy scandi-looking Primarket café on the first floor) and of course, the highlight for most would be the Disney themed café on the second floor, complete with giant mickey mouse ear archways- one for adults and one for the kids- only I can’t comment any more on that as the queue really was snaking around the whole floor but the mickey mouse pancakes are all over Instagram.
Walking out, I feel relief that I’m not in a busy store anymore!... but joking aside, I have been so impressed by the whole experience. Perhaps more could be made of the final impression to match the amazing first impression I had, for this is what customers will remember, a bit of peak-end theory here would leave customers on a high as they walk out.
Primark has put a massive department store in one of the UK’s biggest cities, when all other department stores and smaller stores for that matter, are struggling. Consider also, that you can’t buy Primark online, everyone buys instore, it’s another way they don’t follow the rules. This leads me to think they could make more of their digital in store; their ‘Primania’ page online where customers can upload their Primark looks is incredibly popular- could they encourage more customers to share and snap their outfits, manicures, mickey mouse pancakes in store, to link the two worlds together? Just a thought.
Stepping back on to the streets of Brum, I think about strolling over to Zara, New Look- any of the other shops that I once positioned as cheap and cheerful fashion but this Cx has ruined that for me- I have been spoiled by this store where I have picked up a brown paper bag of shopping (I got those scratch mitts as well as some other non essentials, I’m only human, and I was amazed to see the total come to around £35- I love a pleasant surprise at the till), a manicure, a lunch and a tea all under one roof, for irresistibly low prices.
All this makes this particular Primark a one stop shop; where you can walk in and walk out feeling on-brand amazing.