Jul 30, 2021
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Retail decline: one in seven UK stores are vacant says new report

Jul 30, 2021

Just how tough UK retail’s pandemic mauling has been — especially for fashion — came into stark focus on July 30.

Photo: Pexels

More than one in seven stores are now vacant on UK high streets, retail parks and in shopping centres, the highest level since at least 2015, figures show. Fashion stores have taken the biggest hit as online shopping peaked and leisurewear overtook occassionwear for stay-at-home consumers with nowhere to go.

Shopping malls, the mainstay for fashion stores, are now searching for replacements for a fifth of their boarded-up units, according to research from the Local Data Company and the British Retail Consortium.

A roll-call of well-known fashion brands collapsing into administration grew over 18 months due to the pandemic.

The loss of UK department store giant Debenhams was compounded by the exit of Arcadia’s staple brands Topshop/Topman, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Burton and Evans. Other losses included Oasis and Warehouse and the latest causality is Gap, with the once-giant US brand Gap deciding to shut up shop to head online.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, again called on the government to change property-based taxes levied on businesses which hamper retailers with physical stores relative to pureplay online retailers.

Dickinson said: “The vacancy rate could rise further now the Covid-19 business rates holiday has come to an end. The government must ensure the ongoing business rates review leads to reform of this broken system, delivering on its commitment to permanently reduce the cost burden to sustainable levels. The longer the current system persists, the more jobs losses and vacant shops we will see, hurting staff, customers and communities up and down the country”.

Lucy Stainton, director of Local Data Company, added that with vacancy rates so high, landlords would have to think of different ways to use empty units as there were "not enough new retailers to fill the space”.

But she said the figures indicated an improving trend as the increase in vacancy rates had halved from the same period in 2020.

Indeed, Fashionnetwork stories of new store openings, retailers upsizing units and signing contracts over the last few months are all testaments to a slow-but-positive revival.

“After an initial flurry of restructures, closures due to consumer behaviour shifts and cost-cutting exercises, retailers are now starting to dust themselves off with cautious optimism, keeping a close eye on the rapidly changing infection rate and the pace at which vaccinations are taking place – two measures that could seriously derail recovery efforts should they not go in the right direction”, added Stainton.

Over the last 18 months, many retailers have failed and many still struggle to survive. High streets and shopping centres lost more than 17,500 chain stores in 2020 alone, according to earlier research from PwC and the Local Data Company.

Meanwhile, Covid spurred average daily closures of 48 stores, leisure and hospitality venues leaving unsightly gaps in once-vibrant locations, including premier London  shopping thoroughfare Oxford Street.

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