Proposal: The Evolution of Marketing Strategies Used by Fashion Retailer Primark
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A growing demand of convenience for the consumer and new forms of consumption, alongside technological transformation and information accessibility have changed the fashion industry. Retailers have increased their flexibility in terms of product supply and quality, adaptability to fashion trends, as well as introduced dynamic pricing and marketing strategies, enabling them to maintain a profitable position in an increasingly competitive environment (Bhardwaj and Fairhurst, 2010). Additionally, societal demands have urged organisations to combine traditional offline tools with digital platforms and corporate social media (Mohr, 2013; Manikonda et al., 2015). UK retailers have vastly turned to online marketing and e-commerce to allow further access points, establish presence and encourage sales, yet widely lack visual or brand consistency, involvement in two-communication or after-sale care (Rowley, 2009).
However, one company has purposefully remained distant from digitalisation. The Irish low-cost fast fashion retailer Primark uses social media and online communities with the purpose of building communities not through investment and advertising, but through word of mouth (Jones et al, 2009; Arriaga et al, 2017).
The following proposal will concern itself with providing justification to a research project, the aim of which will be to explore and critically analyse the effectiveness of the marketing strategies, adopted by Primark throughout their company life cycle thus far.
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Although fast fashion has grown as an industry - economically and socio-culturally (in terms of acceptance and popularity), previous studies have placed emphasis on researching supply chain models, manufacturing processes or cost consideration as success factors (Arriaga et al., 2017; Ziskind et al, 2011; MacCarthy, and Jayarathne, 2010). Thus, a knowledge gap has been identified. Namely in fast fashion, the relationship of marketing strategy and consumer behaviour has been somewhat neglected under the assumption of greater importance of other factors. It can be argued that an evolutionary analysis of the marketing strategy deployed by one of the most successful fast fashion retailers, such as Primark, can assist the understanding of the industry dynamics and development throughout recent years.
The proposed research will critically examine the evolutionary marketing strategies of Primark and assess the effectiveness of their offline and digital strategies, using testimonials of consumers, obtained through netnographic analysis.
Research Aims, Limitations and Objectives
This research aim is to produce a synthesis of literature regarding an international growth marketing strategy in the low-cost fast fashion retail and validate the findings through a qualitative approach. The literature review will place emphasis on studies, which assist illustrating periodically the tactics used by the case organisation Primark during its periods of growth and international market penetration.
The method of writing SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related) objectives, introduced by Doran (1981) and revived by Meyer (2003) has been used as a grounding theory for the objectives of this research project, as listed below:
- Classification of existing literature around the offline and online marketing strategies of Primark in a timeline matter.
- Investigate the relationship between the changes in strategy and the international growth and expansion of the company through sentiment analysis, using nethnographic research.
Fast fashion is said to have transformed the fashion apparel industry, yet researchers, who have placed attention to historical, economic and logistical factors of its continued success urge that consumers’ preferences, attitudes and desires are further examined (Bhardwaj and Fairhurst, 2010). Previous studies, exploring the evolution of marketing strategies, adopted by companies in the low-cost fast fashion retail sector have concluded that Primark’s niche of being the cheapest and most frequently updated (trend-wise) retailer has attracted consumers as it allows them to update their wardrobes regularly at an affordable price (Memic and Minhas, 2011; Zhou et al, 2015).
Commodification of fashion has urged quicker turnaround of trends to encourage a quicker cycle of purchase-obsolescence-disposal in both fine and fast fashion (Ko and Megehee, 2012). Through the successful execution of the Global Quick Response (GQR) strategy (MacCarthy, and Jayarathne, 2010), whilst denying the trend of e-commerce, Primark continues to encourage one-stop volume shopping (Doherty and Ellis-Chadwick, 2010) and maintains an average store turnaround of six weeks due to the frequent visits of its customers (Ziskind et al, 2011).
Arriaga et al. (2017) investigated the involvement of Primark in online communities on the social media platform Facebook through exploratory qualitative research, concluding that although the brand has a presence and an active following, their engagement can and should be improved to aid their marketing strategy further. Jones et al. (2009) note the company’s strategy relies on electronic word of mouth (eWOM), as opposed to high advertising budgets. With apparel being part of the high-involvement purchases group due to a personality identity link and social risk linkage, it naturally attracts conversations online (Gu, Park, & Konana, 2012). Wolny and Mueller’s (2013) findings further suggest fashion involvement and brand involvement are the key motivators in participating in eWOM, amongst need for social interaction and advice seeking, which Primark undoubtedly benefits from. Online communities have further assisted the organisation in the events of PR crisis management, where the lack of corporate response with regards to accusations for the ethical treatment of workers has allowed brand advocates to voice their opinions online and reduce the public outrage towards the organisation (Jones et al., 2009).
Following a widescale adoption of mobile technology and the accessibility and growth of use of social media websites, the data shared on such platforms has become one of great interest for researchers, due to the belief that it provides a rich, open and straightforward view of culture and emotional insight (Kozinets, Dolbec and Earley, 2014). Thus, social media platforms have become an important field for qualitative social scientific investigations through netnography analysis.
This type of research is naturalistic in orientation, as it explores and observes naturally occurring behaviours in their local contexts. The output is often descriptive as well as analytical, offering the researcher an opportunity to be entirely immersed into a computer-mediated context of study and act as an instrument to the discussion (Guba and Lincoln, 1981). Such a method allows access to vast amounts of data, both elicited and non-elicited, which are captured through the observation of the researcher, but often in a non-intrusive way where their presence remains invisible to the culture members (Kozinets, 2010; Beaulieu, 2004). Finally, it provides not only access to vast quantities of data, but also outperforms traditional ethnography by overcoming the limitations of geographic belonging and time through the leverage of technological advancements (Kozinets, Dolbec and Earley, 2014).
The execution of the research will take place amongst members of Twitter and Facebook communities in the UK. Examples from international communities are only going to be drawn to aid discussion or draw parallels of contrast. The specific areas of study are only going to become apparent once the evolutionary progression of Primark’s strategy has been synthesised during the analysis of the literature available. Overall, the motivations, attitudes and response of online communities will be observed in line with strategic changes.
The following timetable is proposed to manage the progress of the project (Table 1). Supervisor meetings are suggested following each milestone of the project, in which either electronically or in person, feedback will be sought to aid the overall progress, namely editing notes and planning support.
Finalising Proposal and Submission
Writing and Editing Literature Review Chapter
Finalising Methodology: Structure and Approach
Data Clustering and Analysis
Writing and Editing Findings and Discussion Chapter
Complete Final Draft & Proofreading
Table 1. Proposed Research Project Timetable
As a qualitative exploratory piece, the findings and interpretation of results are subjective to the author’s bias (Silverman, 2013). In terms of the methodology, a potential limitation to the findings is the lack of engagement with the researcher, following the start of the investigation and immersion in the online community. In such event, the observations can continue as ‘passive (non-participatory) netnography’, yet critiques of this method have been vocal about its limitations (see Costello et al., 2017).
Finally, as the focus of this research is a specific organisation, it is understood that the transparency of findings can only be assumed under similar conditions. A further limitation is that the success of a marketing strategy in an industry of exponential growth, such as the case of Primark in low-cost fast fashion, cannot be replicated within the same industry, as some of the conditions of success are innovativeness, accurate timing and external macro- and micro-environmental factors (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994).
To summarise, this proposal has provided clarification, suggested structure and justification of this research. Following the exponential growth of low-cost fast fashion, the industry’s response to the trend and Primark’s international success, this research is aimed at providing clarification and validity to the marketing strategy deployed by the organisation through evolutionary analysis of the actions taken. The methodology deployed is qualitative research, specifically using netnography, the advantages of which were discussed above. Overall, this research can prove to be significant in terms of understanding socio-cultural factors of consumer behaviour and brand attachment, as well as the importance (or lack of) a company’s response to micro- and macro-environmental influencing factors in the low-cost fast fashion industry.
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