In a fortnight’s time one of the best known names on the High Street will disappear after almost 100 years of trading in the UK. The demise of Woolworths with the loss of 27,000 jobs in its 800 stores reflects the difficult trading conditions even at this, traditionally the most lucrative period of the year for retailers.
It is confidently predicted that many more retailers will close in the coming year as the credit crunch and recession continues to bite.
The Bank of England’s decision to cut interest rates to record lows and America’s decision to take the rate down to virtually 0% shows the desperation of governments to get consumers spending again, boosting the economy.
It is a desperate gamble, because the low interest rates send out a signal of desperation, making people more cautious.
Consumers, of course, are acutely aware that their jobs could be the next on the line and are being more cautious in their spending.
For those with ample disposable income and
some sense of job security, the present trading conditions are a boon. Retailers, in an attempt to get customers through their doors, are holding regular sales and special promotions.
There are plenty of bargains about if people shop strategically and with three days left to Christmas there may even be more price drops as traders try to move stock and maximise their income.
For they, like the consumers, know that January and February will be long months with little economic cheer after the excesses of Christmas.
Of course Christmas has come early to border
towns like Newry, Enniskillen, Strabane and Londonderry as shoppers from the Republic of Ireland have flocked north to take advantage of the strength of the Euro against Sterling and the differential in VAT rates.
The southern shoppers have been penetrating further into the north, helping to keep the tills ringing. For once the border has proved an economic bonus to the northern economy.
With job losses accelerating, this Christmas will be a lean time for many families and many others will also be concerned about future employment
prospects. For them the warning to spend wisely rather than widely is of particular relevance, but it is a caution which everyone should take on board. Remember that this time a year ago very few people even imagined the economic turmoil which has since gripped the world.
And, while there is an understandable concentration of material things at this time of year, those of a Christian persuasion should pause for a little reflection on the true meaning of Christmas.
There are many families in our own communities who have little to cheer about at this, or any other, time of the year.
We should not be blind or indifferent to their plight.
It is as important to replenish the soul as to fill up the cupboards and donating some money to Black Santa, the Dean of Belfast on his annual collection sit-out, or to any of the charities which help the deprived at home and abroad could be the most valuable present that we could give this year.