Belfast Telegraph

High street still very vulnerable

By Donald C McFetridge

A new report, based on research by PWC and compiled by the Local Data Company, demonstrates that nearly three times as many shops disappeared from high streets in the United Kingdom in 2014 compared to the previous year.

The study of multiple retailers in 500 town centres across the UK shows that 5,839 outlets closed in 2014, while there were only 4,852 store openings. This equates to a net reduction of 987 shops compared with 371 shop closures in 2013.

Not surprisingly, the research found that the overall profile of town centres in changing - and changing rapidly.

The PWC statistics reveal that some 765 shops of a more traditional type - such as fashion and shoe shops - pulled down their shutters for the very last time in 2014.

In addition, service retailers, such as opticians, travel agents, hairdressers and recruitment agencies, witnessed a further net decline in shops - from -299 units in 2013 to -457 in 2014.

However, leisure stores (including food, beverage and entertainment outlets) continued to thrive, albeit at a much slower rate.

The research shows that there were an additional 233 stores of this type on the high street in 2014, compared to an extra 311 in the previous year.

In the meantime, charity shops, coffee shops, tobacconists and e-cigarette shops (the latest high street phenomenon), pound shops and betting shops were among those opening most new branches during the past year.

These latest statistics clearly demonstrate that the high street is in a very vulnerable position - as are those who trade on it.

The numbers expose the harsh impact of changes in the retail macro-environment which continue to affect traders operating in certain sub-sectors in high street locations.

High-profile retail collapses - like La Senza and Phones4U - contributed to these statistics for 2014, which equate to approximately 16 shop closures per day over the year.

It appears that the trend towards a high street providing fewer retail opportunities, fewer retail services and a more concentrated entertainment offering is set to continue apace.

  • Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster University Business School

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