Five years ago, when BHS collapsed, the UK lost more than 80 percent of its department store presence. That gap has not yet been filled, with 237 sites still vacant.
Data compiled by CoStar Group, a commercial property information company, shows chains including BSH, Debenhams, House of Fraser and Beales had 467 stores between them five years ago. Today just 79 remain.
The analysis of the state of the UK high street is dismal. The pandemic may have fuelled the rate of closures with the rise of online shopping, but the trouble for most chains began long before the coronavirus.
Often the sites operated by department stores are costly real estate, which many businesses cannot afford. Vacant sites also affect adjacent retailers who must deal with a fall in footflow. Furthermore, demand for larger units have shrunk, Lucy Stainton, commercial director at the LDC, told the Guardian.
“As time passes, units can become increasingly challenging to let, as they often require significant capital expenditure in order to rejuvenate the space or redevelop it for another use entirely,” she said. “Since December 2020, 120 ex-Debenhams stores have come on to the market, which means there are now many more of these large retail units than demand from retailers requires.”
The changing shape of the high street without the anchor of a department store has been felt by many communities. But hope is not lost, with retailers such as Next occupying the space in some former Debenhams stores for its new beauty concept. From the current 237 empty BHS units, 52 have either firm plans in place or early planning approval for a change of use or repurposing, said the BBC.
The shift to digital consolidates
Data from Deloitte shows the shift to digital is consolidating. “Footfall at the end of May 2021 remained down on 2019 levels and while it is increasing, online sales are proving remarkably robust in light of the opening up of non-essential retail.” Deloitte said it predicts online sales to continue to grow at above market rates for the foreseeable future, driven by both consumer demand and retailer investments in increasing capacity and capability as the transformation of retail continues.