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Laura Ashley closures: an all-too-familiar sight for the high street

By Huw Hughes

18 Dec 2018

Retail

If you feel like the news on Monday that Laura Ashley would be closing 40 of its stores felt oddly familiar, it’s because it is. The UK is facing an increasing amount of store closures, and the once flowery Laura Ashley is the latest retailer to wilt in the country’s struggling high street.

House of Fraser (HoF), New Look and Marks and Spencer are just a few of the big UK names following the unfortunate trend of closing stores in order to survive amid difficult trading conditions.

Laura Ashley closures symbolic of a larger problem

So why the closures? Well, it seems like the UK high street is facing a perfect storm of retail woes. Shoppers are continuing to buy more online, meaning high street footfall continues to drop. People are also reining in their spending, preparing themselves - as best they can - for the cloud of Brexit uncertainty that looms overhead. As a result, many UK retailers are struggling to pay rents and other overheads to keep their businesses afloat. Hence, the closures.

In November, a study by PwC and the Local Data Company (LDC) revealed that an average of 14 stores a day are being shut across the UK, with 2,692 stores shutting in the first six months of the year alone. While the rate of closures was similar to the same period in 2017, the results showed an alarming drop in the amount of shops opening year-on-year, with 2,342 shop openings in the first half of 2017, and 1,569 in the first half of this year.

Greater London was hit hardest by store closures, while Wales fared best, though it still saw a net loss of 22 stores. None of the UK regions recorded a net gain in store numbers in the first half of the year.

Openings and closures of multiple retailers by region across the top 500 GB town centres in H1 2018

RegionNumber of store openingsNumber of store closuresH1 2018 net changeH1 2017 net change
East Midlands113239-1268
East of England155217-62-34
Greater London448716-268-23
North East42114-72-11
North West134192-58-10
Scotland58107-49-42
South East230427-197-25
South West127190-63-33
Wales3052-22-11
West Midlands134223-89-33
Yorkshire and the Humber98215-11712
Total15692,692-1,123-222

Earlier this month, Sport Direct owner Mike Ashley spoke in parliament, offering his bleak outlook on the future of the UK high street, suggesting that - if things don’t change - it could be dead by 2030.

Last week Ashley wrote a letter to Debenhams CEO Sergio Bucher warning him of uncertain times ahead, with the UK retailer yet another big name who has felt pressure recently, as reports were made in October that it would be closing 50 of it stores, putting up to 4,000 jobs at risk.

So is anyone safe in the current retail landscape? It seems even online giant Asos isn’t immune to recent trading pressures. In its latest trading update the online giant announced ‘challenging’ conditions as sales slowed, with the company now expecting sales growth of 15 percent compared to its previous outlook of between 20-25 percent. So even the once-assumed untouchable online players are feeling the squeeze.

And this Christmas doesn’t look like it will take the pressure off. Last weekend - which was supposed to be one of the biggest for retailers in the build-up to Christmas - saw footfall down 9 percent on Saturday compared to the same day last year, according to retail experts Springboard. Now more than ever UK retail is feeling pressures from all sides, and only time will tell if it survives the beating.

Photo credit: Laura Ashley, Facebook