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​UK fashion store closures continue, central London the biggest casualty again — new data

Chain store closures in the UK continued at an alarming rate in the first half of 2021, with fashion the biggest casualty. A total of 1,063 fashion stores closed in the first six months, while 120 department stores across the country also closed for good.

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Photo: Nigel Taylor

The fatal combination of the pandemic and the continuing consumer shift to online shopping saw more than 8,700 chain stores close in the first six months, averaging nearly 50 a day, new analysis has shown.

The number of chain store closures far outpaced the number of new openings, meaning that overall numbers fell by 5,251, according to the Local Data Company research, on behalf of accountancy firm PwC.

Based on visits to retailers with five or more units, totalling 205,600 stores, its data showed the bulk of the closures were, predictably, on high streets, with 3,600 units shutting overall as many big names disappeared. Easy-access retail parks suffered the fewest closures with their mix of supermarkets, homewares and DIY retailers remaining popular during the pandemic.

However, at least the latest data showed the overall pace of closures may be slowing, lower than the 6,000 suffered in the first half of 2020 when the UK first imposed national lockdowns and 11,100 stores shut.

But the 3,500 new store openings in the first half, mostly in the leisure and takeaway sectors, was also the lowest since at least 2016, when the Local Data Company first carried out the same analysis.

The data also showed city centre store numbers fell 4.3% during the year as working from home became normal for millions of office workers. That was worse than commuter towns and villages, were store numbers fell by 3% and 2.3% respectively. 

London was also hit hard, going from being the best-performing UK region in 2016 to the worst for two years running. The capital’s suburban areas fared better than the City and the West End as the pandemic drastically cut the number of international tourists and commuting workers.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets lead at PwC said the government’s financial support – notably the furlough scheme as well as relief on business rates paid by stores – had provided a “lifeline” to the retail sector and prevented an even steeper rate of closures.

“However, operators are far from out of the woods and the next six months will be a make or break for many chains, particularly with the reinstatement of full business rates for all but the smallest operators, the winding down of furlough support and agreement yet to be reached between many operators and landlords on rent arrears.”

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