Leading article: Unsustainable shopping

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After months of doom-laden introspection about our lamentable performance in the shopping stakes, we consumers have come up trumps. Bored by the one remaining shopping-free day of the year, we rushed to greet Boxing Day opening, then thronged to the shopping malls in record numbers yesterday when most big stores began their sales in earnest.

So enthusiastic were we that queues built up well before dawn. The portals of Next were jam-packed with would-be shoppers at 3am, in good time for the 5am opening. John Lewis and Selfridges both reported tills ringing with unprecedented frequency when they opened at a slightly more civilised hour. Whatever else may be happening on the high street - binge-drinking, hood-wearing and pavement-riding by cyclists come to mind - reports of the death of the British shopper are clearly exaggerated.

Before we preen ourselves too much on our shopping prowess, however - and exceed our credit limits all over again - there is good reason to add an unseasonal dash of sobriety to this orgy of consumerism. We may briefly be distinguishing ourselves as champion shoppers, but this is at least partly because we have been lured by the knock-down prices. Transactions are at record levels, but whether the shops are making any money is another matter. If they have little or nothing to show for their efforts after discounting so heavily, employing extra staff and staying open for longer, they may think twice before doing it again.

As a nation of shoppers, we are suddenly thriving. Our prospects as a nation of shopkeepers, on the other hand, may be less rosy.

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