As Gordon Brown and Mervyn King finally uttered the R-word this week, it looked like they had unavoidably twisted the knife for retailers.
And ONS retail figures for September released today are doing little to ease retailers’ pain.
Add to that Verdict’s prediction of the worst Christmas for more than a decade, and retailers and analysts alike forecasting the worst for more than three, and it is hard to see the wood for the trees.
But there are dissenting voices out there in the world of fashion.
“We are a great nation at predicting our own doom,” said Debenhams chief executive Rob Templeman on Tuesday, who added that the only prediction that could be made about Christmas is that it comes every year and falls on December 25.
Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green also refused to be a harbinger of doom, saying: “I want to make a profit, not be a prophet.”
Retailers would be wise to adopt these mantras as they prepare to face the festive season head-on.
Tumbling confidence among consumers has been well documented and well fed and watered by feverish headlines and depressing sales figures over the year. The near-collapse of the global banking system in the past few weeks has led to some of the most volatile trading in history.
But the Government’s bail-out of the banks has gone some way to reassuring shoppers, although, anecdotally, the trading picture for last week seems mixed.
One retailer said today that while the folding of banks around the world inevitably crushed consumer confidence – because of the very real fear that savings could be lost – the consumer reaction to a recession tends to be a much more personal experience.
Fear comes “when people lose their jobs or know someone who does”, said one retailer. Unemployment on a bigger scale could be around the corner – if sales remain depressed, businesses will go under in the new year – but we are not there yet.
So while a technical recession seems inevitable next year – it is already nipping at our heels – Christmas presents an opportunity for retailers to try to talk shoppers out of Armageddon.
People will wait for the best prices and offers from retailers this Christmas and many who still have money to spend will contend with the guilt of doing so.
So, to entice jittery spenders into shops this Christmas, retailers have to go back to basics. Product is key and helping customers recognise the inherent value of that product is essential. The fun and theatre of retail and the warm glow created by good service must be spot-on. The R-word becomes the old adage: “Retail is detail”.
The era of binge shopping may be coming to an end, but a new one beckons. This Christmas will be about going back to basics.