Look on the bright side

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Your -

IF, like me, you feel like it’s been rain­ing for­ever, then, take heart, for ev­ery rainy day inches us closer to sum­mer.

Con­sumer spir­its are pretty low – wit­ness all the spe­cial of­fers. I’m bom­barded with e-mails an­nounc­ing at least 20 per cent off from top high street re­tail­ers on a daily ba­sis. But, who can blame them?

Tak­ings are down, be­cause who wants to go trudg­ing through the mis­er­able rain for a new sum­mer wardrobe – un­less you have an im­mi­nent flight booked to a sunny place. So, we’re wait­ing for the weather to im­prove – which is turn­ing into a bat­tle of nerves for re­tail­ers.

We’re hop­ing for a mo­ment in the sun as a sum­mer of big events nears, kicked off by the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee. Tra­di­tion­ally, we have a nice early sum­mer, and then it starts to rain. Get­ting the nice weather early kick-starts the idea in a fe­male brain about new sum­mer clothes, so the bad weather is work­ing quite nicely for the on­line re­tail­ers, but not so well for high street stores.

ASOS, for ex­am­ple, con­tin­ues to out­shine just about ev­ery­one. It is re­port­ing 63 per cent growth. In­ter­na­tional sales now ac­count for 62 per cent of its to­tal sales and it still has mas­sive po­ten­tial for over­seas ex­pan­sion. The only thing that can re­ally slow it down is in­creased ship­ping charges.

Ar­gos has been hav­ing a tough time (rel­a­tively speak­ing) re­cently. Its pre-tax prof­its fell by £175 mil­lion in the year to Fe­bru­ary 25. Ar­gos sells one in five of alltvs in the UK and said that a weak con­sumer elec­tron­ics mar­ket ac­counted for 80 per cent of its to­tal sales de­cline.

An­a­lysts have been pre­dict­ing lots of store clo­sures as Ar­gos strug­gles to com­pete with on­line re­tail­ers – notably Ama­zon- who don’t have the store rental charges and staffing/store de­liv­ery charges that Ar­gos has to main­tain.

Ar­gos main­tains that only seven of its 750 stores are loss-mak­ing, and that “en­masse” store clo­sures “wouldn’t make any sense” fi­nan­cially.

How­ever, this looks set to change in the fu­ture as on­line pur­chas­ing be­comes more so­phis­ti­cated. Ar­gos can take some com­fort in the fact that re­tail al­ways changes.

So, what is the fu­ture of the Great Bri­tish High Street? For more than a year, Mary Por­tas’s en­ergy, pas­sion and frankly bril­liant PR skills have kept me­dia at­ten­tion firmly on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the High Street. But now it’s time for the Gov­ern­ment (and lo­cal coun­cil) to start im­ple­ment­ing some of her ini­tia­tives. Car park­ing charges and out-of- town de­vel­op­ments are the first stop on this jour­ney. They’re also, sadly, some­thing that the Gov­ern­ment (and lo­cal coun­cil) have not only failed to un­der­stand, but have also given a very wide berth.

So, if we can’t have a de­crease in busi­ness rates, or rental, an on­line pres­ence to ri­val Ama­zon, and the ridicu­lously low prices to ri­val Pri­mark, let’s hope in­stead for some sun­shine to level the play­ing field a bit . . .

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