The popular translation for the Chinese word for crisis – weiji, “danger plus opportunity” – was quoted by PricewaterhouseCoopers global head of retail and consumer Carrie Yu at our Business School in Paris this month.
Sinologists dispute its morphological accuracy, but this definition serves a useful purpose in these doom-mongered days: critical dangers must not
be ignored, but neither should critical opportunities.

We seem transfixed by imminent danger, hell-bent on confronting the avoidable and proving the soothsayers right. But the more agile will step aside and focus on opportunity.

It is an opportune time for retailers to consider new store openings, given shorter leases, monthly rentals, 100 per cent contributions, long rent-frees, reverse premiums, and even 10 per cent turnover rents. Guerrilla stores could proliferate too: like the versatile Grand Opening on Norfolk Street, New York City, or Comme des Garçons, which has just popped up in Glasgow off Byres Road.

Paradoxically, it is also a good time for start-ups, with today’s less stringent covenant and lease obligations. And for franchising: independents will be attracted by links to larger groups; they, in return, by lower capex routes to expansion.

In tough times, opportunities arise to diversify the offer around consumers’ redefined priorities. Pound shops (like the hard discounters) will continue to thrive. Why not open pound corners or pound aisles within the store?

It is instructive to look at what happened when the bubble burst in Japan 20 years ago. An era of selective extravagance took root and remains embedded today; prized luxury goods are bought alongside books about living on a tenner a day and, even, second-hand merchandise.
Such goods (“pre-owned” as Americans like to dub them) will become less infra-dig in a recession. Vintage clothes already feature in high street chains and HMV has just launched its second-hand trade-in scheme.

New technologies drive more affordable opportunities: web- or mobile-empowered initiatives can supplant costly TV slots or expensive bricks-and-mortar stores. Ralph Lauren, for example, has launched its QR service, facilitating point-and-click purchasing for mobile devotees.
Another opportunity for retailers facing declining customer footfall, but with better pools of labour and improved retention, is to examine staff training methods and refocus them sharply on conversion rates and average transactions.

Finally, there will be many deal opportunities in 2009. Well managed, un-indebted companies will be poised for rich pickings among their more exposed peers; and they will not have to pay the manic multiples of yesteryear.