What is the current state of the UK high street?

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According to a report by international professional services firm, PwC, on average 16 shops are closing every day in the UK, with many of them moving online.

In total, 1,234 stores shut in the first half of the year, according to research by PwC and the Local Data Company. This is an increase from last year’s total over the same time period in 2018, where 1,123 stores closed. The 2019 total is the largest since records began in 2010.

Fashion retailers saw the biggest declines throughout the year, closely followed by restaurants, estate agents and pubs.

However, store openings rose by c.4% highlighting the potential opportunities for new entrants as well as established retail and leisure brands.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said: “The record net decline in store numbers in the first half of 2019 shows that there’s been no let-up in the changing ways that people shop and the cost pressures affecting high street operators.

“While retailers need to keep investing to make sure their stores and propositions are relevant to today’s consumers, it’s also critical that all stakeholders find ways to ease the burden on operators, keep investing in the high street, and encourage new and different types of operators to fill vacant space.

“The good news is that there are green shoots, as new entrants are entering even embattled sectors such as fashion. Our research tells us that consumers still want to spend their money in well located and invested stores and leisure venues on the high street.

“However, as consumers continue to change the way they shop and spend their leisure time, the reality is that we may need fewer high streets in the future. This opens up opportunities to repurpose high street space for other uses, while the remaining space evolves to meet consumer demand for convenience, choice and experience.”

Greater London saw the largest number of net closures across all the regions, although it was right at the national average (-1.8%) when taking into account its overall larger number of units.

The East Midlands, North East, South East and Yorkshire and the Humber were the only regions to see a reduction in their net closures between H1 2018 and H1 2019.

Lucy Stainton, Head of Retail and Strategic Partnerships at The Local Data Company, said: “One of the most striking things about this latest Local Data Company and PWC analysis is the level of market churn identified in such a short space of time. Whilst the overall net change number, a loss of 1,234 occupied units in only six months, is certainly significant, the level of openings and closures activity beneath this is hugely notable as the industry continues to re-set.

In our experience, retailers are being that much more cautious and risk averse as far as both planning for new store openings and in making decisions across their existing property portfolios.

The reality is that UK retail space will continue to look very different over the coming years, and this is demonstrated by the sheer number of stores opening and closing on an ongoing basis.”

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