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Carla Buzasi

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'Tis the Season...To Shop

Posted: 18/12/11 00:00

The cold snap this week may have upset those of us who have to wait on freezing cold train platforms for delayed trains (three times this week, three times!), but retailers were thanking their lucky Christmas stars as finally the mountains of scarves, gloves and triple-knit jumpers - slightly dusty given they've been there since at least September - finally started to shift.

In years gone past, the British high street has collectively blamed snow, wind and hail for keeping shoppers at home, but you could practically hear the sigh of relief along Oxford Street as the chill drove people in through shop doors not just in search of Christmas presents, but winter clothes for themselves, too.

Of course, it wasn't just the sleet that forced us, finally, to start debilitating our bank accounts.

In what has become an annual game of 'Who blinks first: the consumer or retailer?', the consumer looked to have won again as sale signs nudged Christmas decorations out of the way in store windows and emails proclaiming "30% off!!!" started pinging into inboxes.

According to PwC, 66% of high street retailers had sales or promotions running last week, and we've still got a full week of shopping ahead of us before stockings need to be hung and gifts tucked under the tree.

Speaking as someone who has done all her gift buying online (oh, how smug I feel right now) or 'delegated' the shopping to someone else (it might have been more the latter than the former actually, but clearly Dad is going to do a better job of picking something for my younger brother than I am), the mere thought of fighting the crowds this week is enough to send me running in the direction of a large glass of mulled wine and a lie down in front of the fire, but I reserve a certain amount of respect for those who leave it right to the last minute to ensure the best of the bargains.

Mind you, given it's the iPad2 and some rather OTT 3D TVs topping the must-buy lists, it's obviously not bargains all round, and even cash-strapped families are finding enough slack in their bank accounts to splash out for the festive period.

With all this in mind, it seemed a slightly odd time for Mary Portas to unveil her 28-point plan to save the British High Street. The flame-haired retail guru and TV personality believes it's the fault of out-of-town shopping malls, giant supermarkets and, whisper it, the internet that's killing off the high street. She's got a point, although I'll defend my right to shop direct from the warmth of my sofa with the passion I usually reserve for devouring mince pies.

She also believes it's impossible to return to that postcard-perfect traditional image of the British high street with its butcher, baker and candlestick maker. I don't need the latter, I doubt many do, although I'm lucky enough to live somewhere with the first two, and a fishmonger, a few fruit and veg shops, wine merchant and even a cheese shop thrown in for good measure - all of which have managed to survive, flourish even, despite the arrival two years ago of a small Sainsbury's.

What the high street needs is easy, cheap, if not free parking, and rents low enough to support independent businesses. It could also do with more people in safe, secure jobs, not worrying about how they're going to pay off that new TV when January's credit card bills arrive. That, however, is the concern of Mary's new boss, David Cameron, and I'd imagine will take more than 28 actionable points.

 

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