It feels like January on the high street – and not just because it’s been much colder than the typical December.

Whether it be one-day Sale spectaculars, secret e-mail campaigns or full-blown Sales, almost everyone is discounting.

It’s a completely understandable reaction to awful trading conditions and the almost certain knowledge that the new year will be even worse. For many struggling retailers, getting stock out and cash in can be the only real focus right now.

What’s more, while the picture remains very mixed, there are signs it’s working. Anecdotally, for some the weekend was much better than it has been for some time. Footfall was only down 1.5 per cent on the same weekend last year – almost cause for celebration in the present climate.
But ultimately the scale of pre-Christmas discounting is going to cause longer-term issues for retailers. Having participated in a radio phone-in earlier in the week, it was clear the callers all knew the game and are calling retailers’ bluffs. They will hang on until the last minute, avoid buying at full price and if they have – well they’ll just take the product back and buy it 20 per cent cheaper on discount day.

Shopper power is an inevitable and good thing in an age when information is everywhere. But at the same time, retailers need to show belief in the value of their product because if they don’t, how can consumers be expected to?

Back to square one

In March this year, after two years of campaigning by Retail Week and others, the Government ditched plans to scrap prison sentences for persistent and violent shoplifters. It was a short-lived victory and this week plans resurfaced again.

Even worse is that under the new proposals addiction to alcohol or drugs – which prompts most retail crime – is seen as a mitigating factor. Tell that to the shopworkers on the front line who face threats and intimidation from these people on a daily basis.

Yet again, despite the desperate times, the lawmakers have shown how little they understand the realities of modern-day retailing. The industry will need to mobilise again to fight these outrageous proposals.

tim.danaher@retail-week.com

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