Never knowingly in line with the rest of the pack

Elizabeth Fournier

year we waved goodbye to Comet and JJB Sports as 2012 saw the shutters pulled down on the high-street stalwarts for the last time.

Those two – along with Game – didn’t even make it to the crucial Christmas sales period before calling it a day, but as January rolls round again and store managers start totting up their December till rolls, retail analysts will have one question on their minds – who’s next?

As last-minute shoppers plunder the high street for presents on Christmas Eve, retail bosses are facing just as stressful a deadline – the quarterly rent deadline that just so happens to fall on 25 December. Add the fact that many shops make the bulk of their revenues over Christmas – on which they’ve bet large chunks of advertising spend and pre-orders, and you’ve got a perfect storm of money worries waiting with the inevitability of a New Year’s hangover.

At risk – as has been the theme for several years now – are the classic mid-market retailers. Not cheap enough to be a bargain option nor exclusive enough to jump on the luxury bandwagon, these stores are being shunted off the British high street faster than you can say “squeezed middle”.

But bucking the trend, as ever, is John Lewis, with sales in the week to 22 December topping £150m for the first time ever – and that’s not even including the brand’s high-end supermarket chain Waitrose.

Unlike many of its rivals, John Lewis held off going into clearance until 27 December – though of course its “never knowingly undersold” guarantee means it was matching competitors offers in the preceding days.

The fact that footfall on Boxing Day rose 20 per cent year-on-year is indicative of the John Lewis sales customer – scouting around for a big-ticket bargain and knows exactly where they want to spend their cash. The really interesting figures will come next week, when we find out whether their interest was held by final discounts on unwanted sale stock – not to mention the crucial new season stock.