Editorial: Retail habits change, but shopping goes on

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

Share
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

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...