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More than 17,500 UK chain store outlets disappeared as a result of Covid-19

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

15 Mar 2021

Recent talk of revenge shopping will not be a help to the 17,500 stores that disappeared from the UK’s high streets, shopping centres and retail parks during the pandemic, as figures from the Local Data company (LDC> and Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC)show.

An average of 48 shops, restaurants and other leisure and hospitality venues closed permanently every day across England, Wales and Scotland. From mid April non-essential stores will re-open after the latest lockdown, but the high street as we knew it will no longer look the same.

While the full impact of the pandemic on retail and fashion is yet to be seen, its effect on consumer behaviour is clear. A shift towards working from home is driving how retail locations have been most affected by closures: City centres are now faring worse than suburbs and commuter towns, and shopping centre shops are twice as likely to close as retail parks.

London remains the hardest hit

London had the highest rate of remaining temporary closure at 6.8 percent, reported LDC. This mirrors other trends such as the 47 percent jump in vacancy seen in the City of London in 2020 which has been impacted by the lack of tourists, office workers and visitors coming through major transport hubs.

Greater London as a whole performed slightly better (4.2 percent of units remaining temporarily closed), boosted by the residential suburbs which were able to retain higher levels of footfall than central areas. Village locations had the lowest temporary closure rate, with only 2.4 percent of businesses yet to reopen or vacate their premises in spite of being able to trade.

Retail places are changing almost as quickly as the pandemic itself, with beloved department stores disappearing or shrinking from the high street, with many turning upper level floors into office space.

Fashion retailers were the hardest hit last year, said the Guardian, “with more than 1,100 disappearing, as names such as Laura Ashley, Warehouse, Oasis and Jaeger exited the high street. The permanent closure of dozens more as well as Arcadia Group’s brands, including Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, will be a further blow to town centres this year.”

The crisis continues to drive vacancies

In the last quarter of 2020 High Street vacancies increased to 13.7 percent,up from 13.3 percent in Q3. It marked the tenth consecutive quarter of increasing vacancy rates, from Q2 2018.

Lucy Stainton, Head of Retail and Strategic Partnerships, Local Data Company, said: “The latest LDC vacancy figures clearly show the predicted acceleration in units closing, the catalyst of which being the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this number only reflects the very immediate impact of the pandemic on the retail market. Hundreds of thousands of stores have been struck by changing restrictions and many of these remained temporarily closed in the intervening periods between lockdowns. Therefore these businesses are not reflected in the permanent vacancy figures.

With each round of restrictions, these ‘frozen’ units are less likely to reopen and so we’re predicting the compound effect of each lockdown being visible in later figures. Added to this, with recent announcements from the likes of Debenhams and Arcadia, the size of the stores coming onto the market will present a real challenge given the likely lack of demand for larger high street units. With a limited number of new store openings, structural solutions will need to be found to prevent these vacant units lying empty for 2,3,4 years or more. Looking further out, the increase in availability of space will provide opportunities for new businesses, however we must prepare ourselves for the picture to get worse before it gets better.”

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