Hard times in deserted High Street

wetherspoon pubDepressing news for the High Street yesterday when a host of retailers announced their sales figures for the six months to the end of September.

Boots sales are up just 0.7%, fashion website Asos up 8%, sofa seller DFS down 2.2% and pub chain Wetherspoons 1.1%. As a cross section of what we buy it's a pretty good indication of the health of the economy – beauty and health items, clothes, furniture and booze.
Boots bosses see one main cause leading to these disappointing results, there just aren't enough people out shopping, particularly outside of London.

Lipstick effect
But they say that to some extent they are shielded from the worst thanks to the 'lipstick effect'. That's because the pharmacy sells so many small, inexpensive items that women can still afford to treat themselves.

And before we all start doing cartwheels down the road because of that 8% figure for Asos, the sobering reality is that it's the worst ever performance they have reported.

Meanwhile, maverick pub entrepreneur Tim Martin is facing an uphill battle with his Wetherspoons pubs thanks to rising costs and the fact that people can't afford to go out and drink anymore. And when you can buy a heavily-discounted litre of spirits at the supermarket for less than the price of the duty on it, what hope do pubs have?

Partly responsible for that 1.1% increase is the fact that Wetherspoons reversed a national trend in the six months to September by actually opening eight new pubs. Think of that next time you pass by your now closed and boarded up Dog and Duck.

I don't know about the string of business czars and consumer advisors the Government has relied on over the last couple of years – Lord Sugar, Mary Portas – but if Tim Martin can manage to survive and still grow in one of the toughest industries in the country, maybe he should be given an invite to Downing Street.

He might just know a thing or two about retail.
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