It’s one of those frequently accepted pieces of shop lore that when times are tough, supermarkets are a retail financial safe haven compared with other parts of the sector.

We all need to eat and, whether we want to or not – unless perhaps self-sufficiency’s your thing – we will keep making those trips down to one of the big four or maybe to one of the discounters if we’re not feeling flush.

The revelation, however, that at some point last year Sainsbury’s opted to employ a design consultancy best known for creating fashion rather than food interiors, should provide even more cause for concern in the boardrooms of non-food retailers.

Who’d be a fashion retailer in the current climate? Double-digit like-for-like decreases can now be coupled with the realisation that the formerly less racy food retailers have got it and are finally cranking up to offer environments and present products in a manner that may ultimately challenge their position.

And before you think that a supermarket can never match the slick, urbane cool of one of our better mid-market fashion outfits, a trip to Sainsbury’s in Sydenham (of which, more in next Friday’s Retail Week) should do much to convince you otherwise.

Rather than the serried aisles of nondescript clothing, displayed in a manner that would not shame a German hard discounter, this is a store that has created a shop-within-a-shop; somewhere that you might even be happy to spend time in.

Inexpensive product set within a destination that for many will be a natural must-visit weekly (or more) event, means that the lacklustre general merchandise interiors that we have grown used to may soon be a thing of the past.

It is also a sign that the supermarkets have realized that if you want to do general merchandise well, then take the best of what’s out there in the fashion arena, adapt it with expert help and then put it into dedicated in-store shops.

There is an awful lot to worry about if you are in any way connected to the clothing retail business at the moment. Negative price inflation, increasing raw material costs and the rise and rise of the euro are just some of these.

Sainsbury’s in Sydenham must add to the list and will mean that fashion retailers are going to have to run even faster if they are to stay ahead or even stand still for that matter.