Primark’s chameleon-like ability to adapt to international surroundings marks out the value retailer as a force to be reckoned with.

Amid all the noise and razzmatazz that accompanied Primark’s arrival in the US at the end of last week, one thing seemed clear, this is an American retailer.

Well, self-evidently it’s not, but anybody looking at the new store in Boston’s Downtown Crossing might be forgiven for thinking that this was a homegrown product.

From the light bulb-studded canopy to the blackened steel window frames, the ambience is that of a big, bombastic US department store of the kind found in cities across the country (although particularly on the Eastern seaboard).


And, of course, a brace of Stars and Stripes flags were flying along the length of the frontage.

What Primark has managed to do is select a building for its US debut that is quintessentially US East Coast retail and soak up a little of that aura.

It has also however, worked to make this feel part of the local retail landscape.

Practically, this means details such as the blue-painted cast iron pillars and a stylised map that puts Boston at the centre of the Primark universe, with planets such as Vienna, Paris, Berlin and, of course, Dublin surrounding it. And maps of this kind can be found in almost every new Primark store, from Brussels to Berlin.

Local immersion

This is a retailer that has understood that it has to be part of its surroundings and that having a format is fine, but it has to be adaptable.

“This is a retailer that has understood that it has to be part of its surroundings and that having a format is fine, but it has to be adaptable”

John Ryan

Contrast this with Tesco’s ill-fated foray into the US.

Fresh and Easy may have looked and sounded US, but it was ultimately a fabrication – a name that meant nothing to locals and which did not stand out from its neighbours.

All of which means that Primark, at the moment, is probably one of the slickest operators when it comes to keeping its identity intact while at the same time flexing what it does according to its location.

This is not the sort of thing that is usually associated with a value retailer where it is generally assumed that one finely honed format will fit all.

As well as having fashion that shoppers seem to want, Primark succeeds because it allows ownership of the format by local shoppers in a way that others struggle to achieve.

A discounter that is about store design as much as low price then and one that is leaving others in its wake in consequence.