So farewell then Comet, which went through its death throes this week and will never trade through another Christmas - at least not as a chain of stores.

So farewell then Comet, which went through its death throes this week and will never trade through another Christmas - at least not as a chain of stores.

Its demise, following the administrations of other well-known retail names during the year, has contributed to the sense that retail is going through not so much a cold spell but an ice age.

Few expect 2013 to be much easier for the industry generally, but high-profile collapses and harsh consumer conditions have not stopped all retailers in their tracks and the sector still offers opportunity for investors.

There are potential recovery stories, such as Home Retail - where John Walden has unveiled a transformation plan for the flagship Argos business - and Mothercare, where Simon Calver’s turnaround, while still at an early stage, shows some signs of delivering.

In such instances the example of Dixons, which has emerged as the last man standing in specialist electricals, provides evidence that the right strategy and management team can put former problem cases on a firm footing.

And there are retailers that have weathered the harsh environment, ranging from Next to Ted Baker to Debenhams. Their strong showing indicates that the whole industry should not be tarred with the brush of failure.

Next year will bring no relief from the intense level of retail competition so, as for the past few years, investors will pick their stocks carefully. Self-help opportunity has been one of the preferred characteristics during the downturn and is likely to remain in favour.

But other factors should appeal too. A multichannel model is pretty much essential, but product exclusivity along with high standards of service and trust in a retailer’s brand are likely to make a difference too.

Such attributes can be seen at work at department store group John Lewis, which has been reporting record trading in the run-up to Christmas. It is not a quoted company, but listed retailers can also adopt a similar approach. Those that do are likely to be winners in 2013.