Primark to launch six new UK stores
Primark, the discount fashion chain, is to turn the screws on its clothing rival Marks & Spencer in the crucial festive trading period by opening six new UK stores before Christmas.
This assault on Britain comes as M&S looks abroad, with plans to return to opening stores in mainland Europe a decade after pulling out.
The British store-opening offensive by Primark, which is owned by Associated British Foods, will include four of the 10 former Bhs stores that Primark bought from its rival earlier this year.
The pre-Christmas move is significant not only because of the huge scale of Primark's stores, which often cover more than 70,000 sq ft, but also as new shops typically generate substantially higher sales than existing ones for most retailers.
Furthermore, many retailers make the bulk of their profits in the final three months of the year, the so-called 'golden quarter'.
The new Primark stores will be in Harrogate, Bournemouth, Worcester, Scotland's Perth and Wales's Cwmbran, as well as a relocated shop in Yeovil.
The opening drive by Primark demonstrates the growing threat of the 206-store chain to M&S, as well as Next, Matalan, Bhs, George at Asda and Tesco.
Plans by M&S to return to Europe also emerged over the weekend. The strategy, masterminded by new chief executive Marc Bolland, is designed to reinvigorate the group's international sales.
It marks a significant U-turn as the high-street chain previously shut its entire network of 38 stores on the continent in 2001, causing outrage at the time.
Mr Bolland is preparing to announce his review of the business next week and could use it to reveal the company's return to Europe .
It is believed that the M&S chief has started preliminary talks with retailers in France and Spain about taking over some of the stores it had sold.
It emerged last week that Primark - which also has shops in Spain, Holland, Germany, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland, where it trades as Penneys - reclaimed its crown as the UK's biggest clothing retailer over the summer.
Primark grew its share of the clothing market, in terms of sales volumes, to 10.9%, ahead of George at Asda's 10.8% and 10.2% at M&S for the 12 weeks to August 15, according to Kantar Worldpanel fashion data.