Making sense of the past seven days
It looked too good to last. The first two trading statements of January, from fashion group Next and wine specialist Majestic, may have impressed but were tempered by today's profit warning from JJB Sports.

An intensely competitive market has hit margins at JJB, which nevertheless managed to boost revenue over 23 weeks by 2.3 per cent and by 2 per cent like for like over the six weeks to January 1.

But for the longer period, comparable sales slipped by 0.4 per cent, and profits are now expected to come in below expectations at between£32 million and£36 million.

It's too early to say whether any of the trading statements so far will be the most typical of Christmas 2005, but the picture should become clearer next week when big names such as Marks & Spencer, GUS, Carphone Warehouse, Morrisons and HMV all release figures.

However, it is probably safe to assume that store groups are not out of the woods yet, and 2006 looks like being another year of grind for many. It's worth remembering that, despite the share price rise prompted by Next's numbers, what was being celebrated was the fact that like-for-likes were down by only 3 per cent.

Next's data covered only the weeks up to Christmas Eve, so the impact of the famous Sale was not measured. But it is a sobering sign of the times that a comparable sales fall from one of the high street's most respected names, during the year's key trading season, counted as a good performance.

Independent corner shops are not, generally speaking, high on Retail Week's editorial agenda. But the future of local shops, and the impact of the multiples on their fortunes, is shaping up to be one of the big issues this year.

There has been much hand wringing, most recently by MPs, about the demise of the local store. Instead of toasting the success of big retail groups, which have transformed the lives of ordinary people for the better, critics are lining up to do them down.

So hats off to shopworkers' union Usdaw, which has injected a note of reality into the debate - as we report in this week's issue. Usdaw has highlighted the benefits that the growth of big retailers, specifically Tesco, has brought to employees. At Tesco alone, Usdaw has 120,000 members and, in contrast to their counterparts at many independent shops, they enjoy good pay, pensions and conditions. It's astonishing that the livelihoods of so many people seem to be ignored in a debate conducted in the starkest black and white terms.

And you have to ask whether the future is really so bleak for decent small retailers. Over Christmas, I spent a few days in the North Yorkshire village where I grew up. Nearly all the independent shops that were there 30 years ago, including a butcher, hardware shop, greengrocer and two bakers, are all still trading.

The reason is that they are good shops - some of them draw custom from miles around, including from the big nearby towns where all the multiples are present.

For retailers, big and small, the customer is the ultimate arbiter of success. A misguided protectionist approach would not serve the interests of the vast majority of people.