Procurement · 20 September 2016

High street retailers in decline as towns struggle to fill shop units

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Shop closures exceeded openings by 1,997 units between January and July of this year.

Traditional high street retailers are suffering at the hands of out-of-town retail parks, according to a new report from the Local Data Company (LDC).

Data from the LDC showed that shop closures exceeded openings by 1,997 units between January and July of this year, as openings fell by 15 per cent while closures dropped by just five per cent, representing a reversal of trends seen in the second half of 2015.

The report also showed that retail parks gained more units than any other type of location – an increase of 1,300 units in the last five years.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Matthew Hopkinson, director of the LDC, said: “It is not only how we shop, but where we shop has changed dramatically.”

Although England had the lowest vacancy rate in the UK – 11.3 per cent – the findings from the LDC indicated a victory of large chains over small businesses in the capital. London was found to be the only region to see a decline in the number of independent shops and the only one to gain in the number of chain stores in the last five years.

Hopkinson warned that the high street’s competitive environment looks set to continue.

“Increased costs for retailers coupled with fierce competition and over supply of shops is likely to see increased levels of distress and failure among retailers with survival of the fittest being the order of the day,” he said.

Alongside a knock in confidence of the UK’s businesses as a result of the referendum result, evidence has suggested that other factors have been taking business away from the high street for the last decade.

The strength of the ecommerce industry has also contributed to a shift in customer spending habits and a decline in traditional high street retail. According to government figures, online shopping accounted for 12.8 per cent of retail spending in the build-up to Christmas last year – up from 2.4 per cent in 2006.

The government’s Enterprise Bill sought to boost high street activity and counter the pull of online shopping, devolving powers to local authorities to “zone” relaxations to Sunday trading laws and enable longer opening hours.

In a statement on the announcement of the bill, former business secretary Sajid Javid said: “The rules on Sunday trading for our high street stores and bigger outlets have not changed for over 20 years, meaning they cannot compete with this new online competition.”

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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