Making sense of the past seven days
Retailers spend most of the year preparing for Christmas and we're now entering the season when all that work should hopefully pay off.

But as the Christmas lights go up in towns across the country, all the signs remain that Christmas 2006 could be one to forget for most of the high street's big names.

While most retailers are at pains to say they're not going on Sale early, a walk through any shopping centre reveals no shortage of one-day spectaculars and three-for-two offers. Some retailers are panicking, and by doing so are drawing their rivals into discounting too.

What confirms a slowdown is under way is that even the real darlings of the high street are suffering a like-for-like sales fall - see Argos yesterday. Only those with the least challenging comparables are doing well.

Even the mighty Philip Green was forced into a profit warning this week, candidly holding his hands up to having taken his eye off the ball at Bhs. Primark has shown there is a big market for low-priced fashion, sold in cheap and cheerful stores. But the key is getting the fashion right - something Bhs has failed to do. A long haul lies ahead, and if Green can reinvigorate this tired brand it will prove he is the retail genius some people say he is.

The food sector is, to an extent, immune from the broader sector difficulties, and Sainsbury's reported modest sales growth this week. Vibes around the Holborn HQ seemed good and the business appears to be going in the right direction. But no one in the business is under any illusions that restoring levels of profitability will be a big challenge on the road ahead.