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Pandemic impact ‘yet to be felt’ on high streets

The full impact of the pandemic is yet to be felt in Britain’s high streets, with many shops ‘temporarily closed’, according to new research.

The research by PwC and the Local Data Company (LDC) found that many shops which are ‘temporarily shut’ are unlikely to return once restrictions are lifted, as more people change their shopping habits for good.

It also found that on average 48 chain stores are closing a day, with only 21 opening.

According to the study, almost 10,000 chain stores disappeared from Great Britain’s retail locations last year.

In total, 7,655 shops opened, compared to 17,532 closures, leading to a net decline of 9,877.

Retail parks have seen the smallest number of net closures of any location (453), compared to high streets (4,690) and shopping centres (1,791).

Small towns, which have long been in decline at the expense of more populous areas and cities, are now also enjoying a mini-renaissance.

Researchers say this is because consumers now want to shop in these locations, and larger retailers want to be there.

Looking at absolute figures, London, South East and the North West have seen the most closures.

However, London has undoubtedly been hit harder than other regions, with a record 5.8% increase in net closures this year.

Conversely, Wales, Scotland, East of England and South West, where retail destinations are less highly concentrated, have been more protected from closures.

‘For the first time, we’re seeing a widening gap between different types of locations: city centres and shopping centres are faltering, but certain retail parks with the right customer appeal are prospering,’ said PwC’s consumer markets lead, Lisa Hooker.

‘Location is more important than ever as we see a reversal of historical trends. For years, multiple operators have opened more sites in cities and closed units in smaller towns.

‘As consumer behaviours and location preferences change, partly as a result of COVID-19, retailers are moving to be where they need to be. Small towns will remain important but we can expect recovery in cities as workers and tourists return, albeit in smaller numbers adopting more flexible working models.

‘The full extent will be revealed in the coming months as many of the CVAs and administrations in the early part of 2021 still haven’t been captured, including department stores, fashion retailers and hospitality operators that will leave big holes in city centre locations,’ she added.

‘Retail and leisure operators must take action to ensure they are in the right places, so they’re not left surrounded by empty units and shopfronts.

‘However, there will be big opportunities for growth into the gaps that are emerging. After the global financial crisis, we saw growth of discounters and foodservice chains that replaced exiting retailers. There is an opportunity for operators who can find the right location at the right time to thrive, even despite the current uncertainty.’

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