How tough times have changed our shopping habits

Laura Kuenssberg

Former Business Editor

Waitrose sales are up 3%. Credit: PA

After dire warnings of a 'sea of red' on the high street, today we're starting to get a flavour of how we all really spent in the run up to Christmas, a critical time for retailers when they have to get the tills ringing.

Sainsbury's just managed to keep their record of growing every quarter, scraping out like for like sales of 0.2% - the boss says it's their 'strongest Christmas' but there's no getting round the fact their momentum has slowed.

Over at one of their smaller, but fast growing rivals, Waitrose, the story is rather different, like for like sales up more than 3%, with online orders up more than 33%. Mothercare, who have been struggling for a while, has a grim story to tell, with a sales slump, and profit warning.

Myleene Klass at a Mothercare launch. Credit: Geoff Caddick/PA Archive/Press Association Images

What's interesting is how our habits are changing, not just our increasing love of shopping online, visible across the sector. But both Sainsbury's and Waitrose say their loyalty schemes, Nectar and MyWaitrose are building in importance - savvier shoppers cranking cash back from the retailers any way they can. And it does seem that after a very tough few years our habits appear to be changing, with customers less interested in the middle of the market where the big supermarket boys traditionally battle.

Shopping habits are changing. Credit: PA

Analysts at Shore Capital this morning suggest this is down to how our earnings have changed, and incomes stagnated - more to fight for at the bottom among discounters like Lidll and Aldi, and richer pickings at the top - they write, "those with a compelling value offer are likely to gain market share whilst those at the premium end of the consumer should benefit from those households with increased spending power."

Watch: Laura Kuenssberg reports on how Mothercare is losing custom to supermarkets, boutiques, and online retailers

The likes of Sainsbury's, Asda and Tesco, who report tomorrow, are still massively powerful firms, but the recession and recovery has changed us and how we shop, and there is nothing inevitable about their long term success.