Christmas is a great time for shops – or is it?

If retailers are serious about keeping our high streets financially healthy a rethink is called for

The term “use it or lose it” seems particularly appropriate when considering what is happening on our high streets and in our shopping malls. Christmas is usually a great time for retailers – almost certainly the best period for them. But they face a Catch-22. Namely, how to strike a balance between filling their shops/stores, but managing to keep the queues down so frustrated shoppers are not driven into the figurative “arms” of internet retailers.

I experienced the problem just the other day in my local M&S. I wanted just a few items but, when I went to the till, the queue was about 15 people deep. I decided to go home and order the items from the net.

Now, of course, big retailers such as M&S can afford to have a foot in both the stores and internet market places. Though, even then, one wonders about that particular company’s degree of success. M&S did not miss out on my order but, if enough shoppers are doing the same, it calls into question the need to have thousands of sq ft of expensive high street/mall floor space.

On re-reading these first few paragraphs it might sound like I’m trying to make out the business case for buying everything off the internet. I’m not especially. I am not a good shopper. I would prefer to do other things. But, when I want to buy something, it’s good to know that high street shops are there.

That said, I do shop on the net – usually for items that I don’t have a clue who would sell them. Example? The other day my wife asked if I knew where to buy a container that bras could be washed in without damaging them – a basket-like affair that lets the water and cleaning agent in without the hooks snagging on the drum of the machine. I found what she was looking for on Amazon.

So, this is not going to be an Amazon-bashing article, but I do want to encourage readers to strike a balance between in-shop and online buying.

I’m sure there is a happy medium but, given some of the names that have disappeared or are struggling on the high street (Thomas Cook, BHS, Mothercare, some HMV shops – all just off the top of my head) it is obvious we the British public are not striking the balance. Isn’t it a pity, as George Harrison once sang?

Barclaycard’s backing for the high street

All the big retailers have weighed in with their big-budget TV advertisements for Christmas. There has even been one from Barclaycard backing high streets in general. I think it’s called “keeping a foot in both camps” given that Barclaycard must be doing quite well, thank you, out of the surge in internet shopping.

Looking at the eco side of shopping there are arguments to be made on both sides. For example, if you don’t jam your town centre with cars there is the potential for the air to be cleaner. But, the other side of that coin is how many more vans will there be on our roads kicking out their CO2 as they deliver our internet purchases? There is no easy “magic wand” to be waved here.

But who has won the battle of the Christmas ads? I like several of them and, I stress, this is a personal preference … I vote for the John Lewis/Waitrose ad. Yes, it doesn’t “push” products as such (except maybe Christmas puddings) and is more about the feelgood factor. Advertising professionals may not agree, but I speak just as a consumer.

The full version of the John Lewis/Waitrose Christmas ad
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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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