UK shop numbers on the decline
The number of retail outlets fell by 0.5% in the second quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year, the first fall since the British Retail Consortium-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor (REM) began in October 2008.
The BRC said the decrease marked a significant shift from consistent annual growth in store numbers since the data began, with the underlying trend showing a weakness in store openings over the last 12 months.
The fall in the number of stores is "indicative of the challenges facing high streets" with vacancy rates at historically high levels, it said. However, retail employment, or total hours worked, in the second quarter of 2012 rose by 1.8% compared with the same quarter in 2011, the equivalent of 12,648 more full-time jobs, according to the BRC's sample.
The proportion of retailers suggesting that they will decrease staffing levels over the next quarter has fallen to just 4% compared with 25% for the same period last year.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "Retail as a whole is still where much-needed new jobs are coming from but, within that, it's food retailing that's providing more work.
"Big events like the Jubilee celebrations provided a limited boost to employment levels but underlying weakness in the economy and consumer confidence continue to hit sales and job numbers in non-food retailing.
"Overall retail sales growth across the first half of 2012 was no better than a year earlier and the first decline in store numbers among retailers in the survey since it started in October 2008 shows the worst-hit shops being shut as customers hold back spending. Supermarkets, continuing to open smaller-format stores, are masking the potential of a much sharper decline. Without them, total shop numbers would have fallen further.
"Even so, retailers' sentiment about the coming quarter has improved. A year ago a quarter said they would be cutting jobs. Now that's only 4%. And the relaxation of Sunday trading laws during the Olympics is expected to provide a boost to the number of hours worked over the coming months."
- Private sector pensions vanish
- Even McDonald's and Coca-Cola hit by global misery
- Economy shrinks by a shock 0.7%