The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement will have prompted a brief sigh of relief from retailers.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement will have prompted a brief sigh of relief from retailers.

It brought a postponement of a fuel duty rise that will be welcome news for consumers and the opportunity for retailers to defer next year’s business rates increase.

But the bigger picture remains far from pretty. Alongside George Osborne’s statement came a slew of grim statistics from the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, including a forecast that household consumption will edge up just 0.2% in 2012 after a contraction of 1.1% this year.

But there are some reasons to be cheerful, if you choose to look for them. Foremost among them is probably the fact that the downbeat expectations will come as no surprise to retailers, close as they are to consumers and first-hand data on spending trends.

After nigh-on four years of the most punishing trading conditions imaginable, many retailers have become adept at navigating the harsh trading environment. They know life will continue to be tough, but their priority is how to better cater for customers, take share from rivals and find new growth opportunities.

Topshop tycoon Sir Philip Green, for instance, may have suffered a more difficult year than he is accustomed to, but he resolutely refused to add to the gloom with downbeat pronouncements. Instead, as we report he is building his multichannel operations and eyeing new international markets.

Similarly, as our Ikea story shows, retailers continue to implement self-help initiatives that in its case have helped ensure outperformance in a torrid furniture market.

And while there have been profit warnings aplenty, there have also been encouraging updates. Nobody would doubt for instance that the electricals sector has been pretty bloody, but few would dispute the scale of improvement made at Dixons, which has been as much focused on creating a business fit for the future as correcting the mistakes of the past In the past few years retail has survived the effects of the fall of Lehman Brothers, decimated shopper spending power and the looting spree of the August riots. Some retailers may not be with us the other side of Christmas, but there are many that have steered through troubled times thus far and will continue to do so.

And there’s one last reason to take heart: this time last year the shopper was snowed in. For one week at least this year, retailers’ sales numbers should surely show a nice uptick.