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i Editor's Letter: 2013 - the year of the customer

 

Britons gave each other £2.3bn worth of unwanted gifts on Tuesday, which is not an entirely terrible thing. In the short term it made givers feel happy, and they are unlikely to know that the gifts are "unwanted": some two in three of us hide our disappointment, a skill someone in my family is yet to learn (no names!).

In the longer term, it means much-needed cash swilling around a hungry economy. Some £3bn more will have been spent in the sales yesterday. Never have they been more make or break, with over 140 retailers clinging on for dear life subject to Christmas and sales trading.

If that's not bad enough, another 13,000-plus are in a serious financial struggle. Unsurprisingly, the list is headed by books, news and stationery businesses, which are all affected by the internet. Less obviously, pharmaceutical and personal care companies are hurting too − surely down to competition from supermarkets?

We have a new lexicon: pop-up shops, zombie retailers and "showrooming": browsing in the likes of booksellers for ideas, then going home to see if we can buy online cheaper. This is remarkable because the discounts in Waterstones, at least on new-release, high-profile books, are dramatic enough.

Every store closure means redundancies and a world of stress for the individuals concerned and their families. We can all think of retailers, both big and small, we would be sad to see the back of. But there are many others – sorry, Comet – that have treated shoppers so badly for so long that they are little missed. Too many take us for granted. It is all very well encouraging spending on alleged "bargains" to help save the economy, but my tip for 2013 (about which more this week) is that it will be the year of the customer. Happy hunting.

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