IF you'll forgive the mixture of story and song... it's beginning to look a lot like the ghost of the high street yet to come.

The third ghost from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol would be well at home in Glasgow city centre, using it as a warning tale of what could happen if change doesn't come.

All weekend I procrastinated like crazy over heading in to the city centre for some festive shopping.

There's nothing worse than the Christmas crush: jabbing elbows, queue jumping and the people who walk backwards without looking first, which should be an arrestable offence.

All, of course, exacerbated by covid restrictions - the people who don't use hand sanitiser and who crowd together, ignoring not just social distancing but any sense of personal space.

And how – how! – can we be this far into the pandemic and still have a strong cohort of folk who can't, don't or won't keep their mask over their nose?

I must be one of the very few people who detest online shopping.

I hate the lack of control - ordering things you haven't seen in real life and are essentially taking a gamble on; the nuisance of arranging returns when the shoulder bag you ordered turns out to be no bigger than a wallet; the Russian Roulette of delivery times; and let's not start me on the excessive packaging. Good God, the packaging.

Anyway, not excited about the thought of Christmas shopping but, in the contest of rock and hard place, I'm siding with a trip into town.

Fears of overcrowding were greatly exaggerated, it turned out.

December 18 is dubbed Super Saturday as it's traditionally the busiest shopping day in the run up to Christmas but two weeks out from the big day you would easily, as I had, expect busy streets and bustling stores.

Not so. It was all but a ghost town, relative to recent memories of December in the city centre. The stores were easily navigable as there were no crowds of foot weary zombies shuffling from aisle to aisle.

While they were fine to find a way around, the items I was looking for were often missing. In three separate shops, assistants told me to go online as the present I was seeking wasn't stocked in store.

A friend had a similar experience on Sunday when he took his son to buy a suit in a retailer well-kent for gentleman's outfitting. No suits, not in any of the city centre branches. Go online.

They gave up suit shopping and went instead for lunch, only to find their usual haunt had shut down. It was a fearful place.

Still the Ghost pointed with an unmoved finger to the head.

For years now we've been talking about the demise of the city centre but this, now, feels like a glimpse of the future - a direct look forward to what might happen if fortunes cannot be reversed and innovative alternatives for empty units found.

The obvious answer is that the public is paying attention to the increasingly alarming message about omicron - either a tsunami or a tidal wave, depending on your preference for Prime or First minister - and staying at home, doing their shopping online.

During the lockdown, online shopping saw a marked increase and since restrictions have lifted the proportion of internet purchases has stayed above pre-pandemic levels.

But then you look at busy restaurants and bars and perhaps covid is only a part of the picture as to why people are no longer shopping in the city.

Research from the Local Data Company suggests that the high street's future is not as grim as predicted thanks to independent shops, which are flourishing in local high streets and town centres.

This year there have been more smaller retailer openings than there have been closures; the first time that's happened in nearly four years.

Chain stores have fared less well: more than 5200 outlets closed in the first half of 2021, far higher than prior to the pandemic, making the situation additionally grim for city centres.

Glasgow City Council has acknowledged the particular strain on the city centre and its unique challenges, separate to those of shopping centres in local communities.

The authority has already developed the Glasgow City Centre Strategy 2022 to 2024, working with a City Centre Task Force bringing together local and national groups to develop a range of short term and long term fixes for the beleaguered area.

Covid-willing, these plans need to be swift before the situation becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. If the city centre feels bleak then people are less likely to return. The fewer people who return, the more bleak it will feel. And on it goes.

There will and must be a re-emergence of the city centre into some new form but the transition period is a sad sight indeed.