A visit last week to Primark’s first store in Germany was instructive. Located in the northern city of Bremen in a brand new shopping centre, it was reasonable to expect that the value retailer would have pulled out all the stops to make its Teutonic debut, and it didn’t disappoint.

A visit last week to Primark’s first store in Germany was instructive. Located in the northern city of Bremen in a brand new shopping centre, it was reasonable to expect that the value retailer would have pulled out all the stops to make its Teutonic debut, and it didn’t disappoint.

The large, single-floor outlet was, by some distance, the best-looking retailer in the city’s Waterfront mall and shoppers were paying attention. There were plenty of them in the store and, rather unlike many Primark UK branches, the merchandising standards were of a very high order. And all of this was in an environment where a pair of jeans or a T-shirt cost just a few Euros.

A little later, having jumped on a tram to get to downtown Bremen, the department store retailers in the city centre told a rather different story. Whether it was the embattled Karstadt or the oddly named (to English ears) Peek & Cloppenburg, the red pen had been passed through almost every single SKU – or at least that’s the way it seemed.

This was unsurprising. A quick stroll round the ground floor of Peek & Cloppenburg showed that things are still slow to change in the world of German department store retailing. As ever, the mid-shop was all at one level, about waist high, allowing uninterrupted views to the heavily-branded back wall… and creating an immediate sense of, well, boredom. Little wonder that this part of the German retail panorama is experiencing difficulties. Not only has it failed to change, but the arrival of agile arriviste outfits such as Primark, must make the future trading prognosis quite poor.

It also serves to illustrate the gulf between German and UK department store retailers. Over here, retailers such as House of Fraser and Debenhams may also have noticed that trade is not entirely as might be wished, but these are still the sort of places where shoppers are likely to take a look around and yes, they do look better than even the best of the discounters.

Primark’s north German offensive is set to be successful as much because of the relative poverty of what is done by others as because of its embodiment of the central European notion of “preiswerth” (a term that roughly translates as value and quality, rather than just value). In spite of the many problems that beset UK retail, it is still in the vanguard in terms of the way things are done when compared with those operating in Europe’s largest economy.  

A full report on Primark Bremen will appear in the Retail Week August 7 issue and online.