Editorial: Retail habits change, but shopping goes on

Internet sales cannot be ignored when considering the overall health of commerce

Related Topics

Maybe it was because it is not human nature to be bound by austerity for ever; maybe it was because those prophecies about the world ending last week proved false. Or maybe it was just that the house-guests had left, the rain had briefly let up, and people were intent on escaping their four walls. Whatever the reason, shops around the country reported records broken by the hour. If the Government wanted consumers to spend for the sake of the economy, it seems the penny – and the pounds – finally dropped today.

There are reasons to be wary. High street sales before Christmas were said, in the guarded language of the British Retail Consortium, to have been "acceptable, not exceptional". But it is not clear how far even those sales were achieved by dint of aggressive price-cutting and early clearance sales. British shoppers have become expert at waiting for prices to fall before they buy; an unaltered price tag is seen increasingly as an opening gambit – the prelude to a better deal. It is too early to know whether the wheels of the economy were really oiled.

There is also a difference between price-cutting that suits both retailer and consumer and price-cutting on the order of a distress sale, such as marked the last days and hours of the Comet chain. Immediately before Christmas, one survey warned that as many as 140 retailers were in a "critical condition", while thousands more were "in distress". It found some sectors, though, doing comparatively well, including home improvements and supermarkets; the former perhaps reflecting the difficulty of raising finance to move house; the latter sheer necessity.

Even before today, though, there were reasons not to despair in the face of an indifferent season on the high street. While shop staff spoke of people window-shopping rather than buying, presuming that they then went home to search the internet for a better price, such observations do not have to be depressing. Some retailers may have been outspoken in their condemnation of tax arrangements that allow some multinationals and internet businesses to offer lower prices than home-grown establishments, but others see such competition as keeping them on their toes.

And the thriving of internet shopping – an area where British consumers lead the world – cannot be ignored when judgements are made about the overall health of the retail sector. The much-quoted "spike" in sales on Christmas Day itself is part of the picture. Much depends on where and whether people eventually buy.

There may be many who buy from the internet outlet of the selfsame store where they were window-shopping, using the store more as a showroom than a shop. And here convenience as well as price can be a consideration. It is a lazy store that simply grumbles about the internet without considering how it might make life easier for shoppers, at minimal cost.

There will probably always be people who prefer to see, touch and test what they want to buy – but would also like it carried home for them. And they will doubtless have been among the nearly one million people who thronged London's streets today. With crowds out across the country, reports of the death of the high street – whether Oxford Street, covered mall or showroom – would seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London