Retail reflections: Woolworths; sales figures & ‘fake’ £1 coins

Alan Monahan writes: After the sobering news that UK retail sales posted their biggest quarterly fall in seven years in March, I was cheered to hear that Woolworths could be making a return to our high streets.

The Wonder of Woolies is that it is still so fondly remembered after shutting its doors in 2008.

Older shoppers among us can recall the things that made it memorable – and it wasn’t just pick ‘n’ mix sweets. Singer Nanci Griffith summed it up perfectly in the prelude to her song, Love at the Five and Dime, describing the ‘ding’ of the elevator bell and smell of a Woolworth’s store, “chewing gum and popcorn rubbed around on the bottom of a leather-soled shoe”.

The cruel truth, though, is that sentiment doesn’t pay the rent. Not enough people shopped there. So, will white knight Tony Page bring it back to life?

According to the Daily Star, the retailer’s former managing director has approached Shop Direct to buy the name. He told the paper that he was still “emotionally attached” to the business, adding that it had a role in the future.

Mr Page envisages that Woolworths could return “at the heart of the community” where its most successful stores did best, rather than in big shopping centres. If that happens, it will be up to old fogeys like me to make sure that we don’t just talk about this lost national treasure but spend some money there!

Returning to those disappointing first quarter sales figures, by volume they declined 1.4% on the previous quarter, and were down 1.8% compared with February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics. All types of shop suffered, except those selling textiles, clothing and footwear.

We all knew in our heart of hearts that goods would eventually cost more and ONS senior statistician Kate Davies believes the decline in sales could be “a consequence of price increases across a whole range of sectors”. The average store price rise of 3.3% on the year was the highest increase for five years.

On the subject of prices, the British Retail Consortium is anxious that UK shoppers get a fair deal in forthcoming negotiations with the EU: its Tariff Roadmap for the next government is aimed at ensuring that they do.

The BRC isn’t arguing for a hard or soft Brexit but believes that efforts should concentrate on setting out what a smart Brexit looks like for Britain. Its roadmap focuses on our current retail import trade relationships and the journey ahead.

It wants the government to lead an orderly and sequenced process, where we negotiate to continue across the board tariff-free arrangements with the EU before securing new trade relationships with the rest of the world.

“By preserving the openness in trade we already have with our existing partners in the short-term and reaping the benefit of new trade deals in the medium-term, consumers get continued and even greater access to a diverse range of goods at competitive prices.”

Sounds easy? It won’t be. But well done for trying, BRC! You can find out more about its project, A Fair Brexit for Consumers, at www.brc.org.uk

As a young journalist I was told never to make claims that couldn’t be substantiated.

So when the Royal Mint said its new 12-sided £1 coin was “the most secure in the world”, I noted this with a wry smile. Now, a charity worker is claiming that his partner was given a fake version of the new £1 coin in her change at a Co-op store. He noted a number of differences to the real thing, including that the so-called counterfeit was heavier and didn’t have hologram.

The Mint has subsequently said that it wasn’t aware of any forged coins. It is now suggested that ‘mis-strikes’ may have caused mis-aligned printing, which may mean that such examples are sought-after.

Time to check your tills, folks!