Christmas trading results from January confirmed the widening gulf between traditional ‘bricks ‘n mortar retailers’ and ‘Only online’ retailers. The big four supermarkets all warned of falling like-for-like Christmas sales despite their online presence and M&S Boss Marc Bolland threw himself onto his sword after announcing sales down 5.8%

But hang on a minute – Card issuers like Visa and MasterCard confirmed their turnover was UP by 2% so where was the difference going if not into the big four’s online sales? Two obvious suspects are German – Aldi and Lidl – but their sales turnover is still tiny in comparison. The big winners have been the Only Online retailers like AO. They reported a staggering 31% increase in sales, a bigger increase than even Aldi achieved. Changing shopping habits have now impacted on Supermarkets just like they did on the Markets industry when they introduced big box self-service.

But before you take too much pleasure from seeing the Biter bit do your own reality check to see if you’re taking plastic and have a website to promote yourself, or even – God forbid – for online sales.

In the UK’s consolidated retail economy (over 80% of groceries and household goods sold by four companies) the move online and the Only online completion and Aldi etc has left them with underused and very expensive property liabilities. They are shelving projects and offloading underperforming sites as fast as possible but who can they sell them onto? Potential purchasers are suffering as much as they are and anyway they’d want to slap a restrictive covenant on the title to prevent it being used for retail by the competition. The clever money is going into redeveloping supermarket sites for housing – very much in line with government policy. The UK is now OVER provided with retail space but UNDER provided with houses. Say goodbye to Asda and hello to Acacia Avenue.

Small wonder then that big retailers are looking at ways to diversify their business and maintain profits as well as reducing rent bills. Tesco tried to do this with ‘Fresh ‘n Easy’ in the USA (which was a disaster) and have tried to fill underused stores with Harris & Hoole coffeeshops etc. Not that it’s had much effect. The recruitment posters show suntanned South California hunks and beach babes not often seen in Mudford-on-Sea.

Mike Coupe, the dynamic new CEO of Sainsbury has been sniffing around Home Retail Group, owners of Argos (and until recently Homebase DIY) to fill underused space in his stores. His rationale is that Argos has excellent buyers, their property portfolio is cheap to run and they have a proven home delivery service. Buying Argos then slotting their stores into Sainsbury units could save an awful lot of money for both and provide ‘Click and Collect’ for in Sainsbury convenience outlets. Well that’s the theory anyway but the secret is out. The Home Retail shareholders are playing hard to get and have just sold off Homebase DIY to Aussie retail group Wesfarmers to boost the share price so Mike will have to pay a lot more than he wants. Watch this space.

And finally: the latest stupid-sounding name which no-one really understands. After ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber-Saturday’ we have ‘Blue Monday’ – the third Monday in January. This is allegedly the most depressing day of the year. That may be true but I hate the name which I came across while looking for a cheap weekend Citybreak. WizzAir looks the best with four days in Riga, Latvia for £250 flights, hotel and meals included. Why Riga? The Markets are housed in five Zeppelin airship hangars which sounds interesting.

‘Blue Monday’ was invented by Sky Travel TV channel in 2005 to drum up interest in holiday offers. Well it didn’t work because their owners, BSkyB closed them down after 5 years due to ‘intense internet competition’. Unfortunately the name lives on but can be ignored by everyone in the Markets industry who is well used to the Kipper season, which is not a stupid name at all.

Quarterbridge can be contacted through their website at www.quarterbridge.co.uk Telephone. 01296 712233 or email: jonathan.owen@quarterbridge.co.uk