Comment: The festive frenzy finally hits the high street

Scott Reid
Scott Reid
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A LITTLE reminder, as if it was needed. There are now fewer than nine days to hit the shops before the big day arrives.

Yesterday morning saw some early indications that people were pressing the panic button with car parks filling up rapidly and “open for business” signs being swung round earlier than normal for a Saturday.

Retailers will be praying the momentum continues as a torrid year for the high street draws to a close.

The unstoppable growth of online shopping, battered personal finances and a rising cost base have hit stores hard in 2012. Not that the previous few years were much kinder.

Of course, many have failed to make it this far with JJB Sports and electrical chain Comet among the more recent high-profile failures. Comet is set to disappear from Britain’s retail parks for good this week when administrators shut the remaining sites on Tuesday.

Attention has turned to another venerable name after HMV’s warning last week that it had just days left to turn things around.

More than just about any high street name, HMV has been a victim of the rising power of the internet. Few people, particularly among the younger generation, visit store these days to snap up the latest sounds.

Besides downloading, the 91-year-old business has been squeezed by the likes of Amazon and flogging CDs and DVDs at knockdown prices and supermarkets undercutting with chart material.

HMV bosses are banking on a last-minute pick-up in festive trade and there are hopes of lifeline deals with bankers and suppliers. The collapse of such an iconic high street name would be a body blow for scores of town and city centres and add to a forest of “to let” signs. For many still wedded to physical formats, HMV has become the last man standing, particularly following the 2008 collapse of Woolworths.

There have been some positive signals from the retail sector in recent days. Friday saw suit specialist Moss Bros and upmarket fashion and furnishings retailer Laura Ashley both report strong trading.

Analysts remain cautious, saying Christmas spending has yet to get into full swing.

Perhaps the festive madness is being pushed back later and later each year. If so, and the rush does become a stampede in the coming days, there will be a little less work for the corporate undertakers come the new year.

Time to back the frackers

IT SEEMS there is no middle ground when it comes to fracking. Environmentalists round on the process to exploit underground shale gas, highlighting safety concerns and the links to earth tremors.

Advocates of fracking – one of several ways of tapping into “unconventional” gas sources – point to the advantages a plentiful supply of cheap energy can bring.

Many believe Scotland is well placed to be at the forefront of a new European shale gas industry. Those forward thinkers should be given a chance.

Twitter: @scottjamesreid