Super Thursday lived up to its name, at least in some respects, but the remaining 353 days of this year may not merit a similar description.
There was plenty to take encouragement from in the swathe of trading updates.
Marks & Spencer’s Christmas like-for-like sales rose at its vital clothing arm – only the second such quarterly advance in the past five years.
That gives grounds for optimism that Steve Rowe, the Saturday boy who rose to become chief executive, may be the person to restore the retailer’s fortunes.
And there was more evidence that Tesco continues to put its travails behind it.
The grocer generated like-for-like sales and volume growth at its domestic arm in the Christmas quarter, and reported its first quarterly market share gain since 2011.
So, the future is so bright that retailers need to wear shades, right?
Sadly there’s no certainty of that.
The bigger picture
Even as he unveiled Christmas numbers that would have turned some rivals green with envy, John Lewis Partnership chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield warned that the year to come will not be plain sailing.
“Trading profit is under pressure,” he flagged. Partners are likely to receive a “significantly lower” bonus this year than they did last, even though the retailer did well over Christmas and an increase in full-year reported profit is anticipated.
It was those very factors, in fact, that prompted Mayfield to speak out on bonuses. Seasonal success risked diverting attention from the bigger trend – the extent of change to come in retail.
The continued rise of online retail in particular, rising costs as a result of the fall in the pound, ferocious competition – all are likely to be challenges this year.
“The rate of retail market sales growth may slow and the rate of profit growth that is achievable will be affected by margin pressure,” Mayfield maintained.
However, retailers can take some comfort from the fact that they have coped well in tough times.
Work to do
One of the messages of the past few years from big turnaround projects, such as Morrisons and Tesco, is that focus on traditional shop-keeping disciplines has been central to revival.
It could be the same at M&S – too early to be called a turnaround yet – where Rowe attributed improved clothing performance to “better ranges, better availability and better prices”; the bread and butter of shopkeeping, surely.
The retail industry may face some big challenges this year, challenges which go far beyond what can be addressed on the shopfloor – whether bricks and mortar or virtual.
But if the small things aren’t done well, the big ones aren’t likely to be either.
Today, retailers can raise a glass to having made Christmas happen, but all the efforts made over the past year will need to be maintained or redoubled.