Record numbers of empty stores on high street as retail crisis bites

Record numbers of shops are being left empty as waves of closures and slower rates of new openings hit the high street, new data has revealed.

Britain’s top 500 high streets lost 2,481 stores in 2018, according to PwC research compiled by the Local Data Company.

The net loss was down to the 3,372 new openings failing to offset a whopping 5,833 closures.

Although some businesses added more locations over the year, the rate of new openings was significantly lower at nine stores per day. In 2013, there were 16 new stores opening every day.

The rate of closures in 2018 remained consistent with 2017 at 16 per day, with notable collapses last year such as Maplin, Toys R Us and Poundworld leaving units empty.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said the results marked a combination of challenges to the high street and advances in the online space.

“We saw an acceleration in footfall decline on the high street with businesses continuing to see the impact of online shopping, increasing costs and subdued consumer spending,” she said.

“It’s interesting that the marked reduction in openings has accelerated the net closure trend.

“In categories as diverse as fashion and financial services, new entrants are able to gain share by launching online – enabled by technology and consumer adoption of mobile and e-commerce – rather than be saddled with the costs and risks of opening on the high street.”

The worst-affected outlets were bank branches, with a net loss of 291 units across the sample high streets.

Fashion retailers were close behind, dropping by 269 shops overall.

Last year saw New Look and Mothercare both close 60 stores each under company voluntary arrangements (CVAs), while East ceased trading altogether from its 34 stores.

Conversely, the fastest-growing sector was sports and health clubs, which gained a net total of 28 units.

Bookshops and ice cream parlours are also on the rise, increasing by 18 sites each.

Ms Hooker said: “The high street of the future will be a more diverse space, not solely dependent on stores. The analysis reflects this with the net growth of gyms and sports clubs, ice cream parlours and cake shops, in addition to initiatives to bring more shared office spaces and homes into what were traditionally shopping areas.”

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