primarkArthur Ryan, the secretive Dubliner behind the success of the Primark chain, is standing down this week and a tribute in the FT at the weekend lauded a “veteran trader who redrew the face of the high street”. An analyst even provided a quote that suggested he had managed to keep all the people happy all of the time.

I first came across Penneys – the Primark brand in Ireland – in the 1970s and used to buy cowboy boots and jeans there. They were cheap and cheerful and worked. In Primark, the sorts of things that I like to buy are t-shirts and underwear, summer casual clothes and so on.

However, one of the secrets to shopping in Penneys/Primark was always to work out when the shop was not full and how to do returns. The canny shopper with time on his or her hands could make the cheap prices work for them. Today, I simply cannot bear to wait in the queues for the tills.

While most retailers seek to reduce queues, in the case of Primark the queue may be part of the package. As the shopper has to work to get their bargain, they may value it more. Cheap clothes and fast service may work against each other. For many shoppers, the hassle of buying from Primark reinforces the value message. It is only this cheap because they don’t invest in lots of staff to give me good service.

For most local shops, this is not a strategy that will work. But is is a strategy that you should be aware of as you need to set the level of service that is appropriate for your shop.