Britain’s high streets, shopping centres and retail parks have been left with the highest number of empty outlets in five years as chains have taken a battering from rising costs and low consumer confidence.
Nearly 12% of shopping locations were empty in the first half of 2019, up 0.6% compared to the same period last year, according to research from Local Data Company’s (LDC) review of 3,000 retail centres.
More than 25,700 outlets closed their doors, the highest level since LDC began tracking the market in 2010. That was offset by 22,115 openings, the highest level since 2015.
Major chains have shrunk dramatically, with 3,508 fewer sites operating compared with a year ago after a fall of 2,848 in the first half of 2018, with Toys R Us, Poundworld and Maplin going bust and retailers such as New Look, Carpetright and Mothercare undergoing restructures.
As shoppers prefer to buy online or are reining in spending amid economic uncertainty, 70% of the Maplin and Poundworld stores remain empty more than a year after the two chains went bust. In addition, 65% of those sites closed by Carpetright and 43% of those closed by New Look as part of rescue restructures are also empty.
Independent stores have proved more resilient. Only a net 138 closed their doors in the first six months of 2019 as entrepreneurial businesses including mobile phone stores, nail salons, bars and cafes all took advantage of cheaper retail rents to expand. Barbers led the way with a net 348 new independent hair and beard trimmers setting up operations alongside 190 beauty salons, the second-fastest growing type of independent stores.
Independent stores have benefited from rising demand for health and beauty services that cannot be delivered online, partly fuelled by selfie culture.
Landlords’ search for alternative names to fill sites vacated by traditional chains has prompted the development of new entrepreneurial businesses such as Gentlemen Baristas, a cafe that has nine locations, 1Rebel fitness studio, which has five locations, and squidgy biscuit seller My Cookie Dough, which has 10 sites.
The LDC reports said: “Independents have seized the opportunity available to them as larger national chains consolidate and focus on the key cities.”
Lucy Stainton, the head of retail at LDC, said: “The retail industry continues to be challenged on multiple fronts and with this, legacy brands are being forced to radically overhaul their operations, while newer entrants take advantage of available space and the opportunity to capture spend from progressively less loyal consumers.”
Property owners are also finding other uses for retail sites. More than 1,600 shops were either adapted to become office space, homes and warehouses or modernised by merging or splitting units. This figure is up from 1,270 units in the first half of 2018.
Number of empty shops in UK at highest level for five years – The Guardian