Making sense of the past seven days
Retailers' sales graphs for the past week should show a welcome spike, as the effects of the cold snap are felt.

For fashion chains especially, the freezing conditions will help move winter stock off the shelves. For store groups generally, wintry weather will turn shoppers' thoughts to Christmas and the annual spending spree.

But whether the retail economy will get the kick-start it so desperately needs is another question. As we report in this week's issue, many store chiefs are cautious - if not downright worried - about how far away recovery might be. GUS finance director David Tyler, for example, expects things to be difficult for another 12 months.

Since many store groups make their entire annual profits over Christmas, there's no underestimating its importance. But surely retailers need to find ways of winning consumer spend throughout the year and avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.

In a downturn, it's even more vital to woo profitable customers at all times, because the effects will be felt at Christmas too.

Halfords is in the lucky position of being relatively immune to seasonal trends. Chief executive Ian McLeod made the point at this week's interims, explaining that December typically accounts for about one-and-a-half times average monthly sales.

Many other retailers do not have that luxury and will need to work harder to boost business throughout the year. One obvious route is online, which continues to grow apace. E-tail sales are expected to come in at about£5 billion this Christmas. According to trade body IMRG, 24 million UK online shoppers will spend an average of£208 each.

As we reveal in today's edition, department store group John Lewis expects to notch up direct sales of more than£100 million this financial year through its multi-channel arm. And, says managing director Charlie Mayfield, the approach has helped boost in-store sales. Other groups, such as Woolworths, are also making a big effort to establish bigger and better multi-channel platforms.

There is no stopping the march of technology and retailers have to take account of that in its own right. But the ability to serve consumers where and when they like provides the chance to increase customer contact and spending all year round, not just at Christmas.

The trading update from DSG International, the retailer formerly known as Dixons, highlighted another way of riding a UK downturn: open shops overseas. While UK sales at flagship electrical chains such as Dixons and Currys were down like-for-like, stores from Tromso to Thessaloniki delivered comparable uplifts ranging from 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

There was a certain amount of sniggering when Dixons was renamed DSG to reflects its international reach. But, even though there are hard issues for the retailer to address in Blighty, the benefits of foreign expansion are plain to see.