If anyone thought that the accelerating economy would save the Great British high street then figures released today should make them think again. Data from PwC and the Local Data Company show that 3,003 shops closed during the first half of 2014, an average of 16 per day.
Though better than last year’s daily rate of 18, the number of new shops opening has fallen, meaning a net loss of 406 shops in the six months to June, compared to 371 in all of last year. The figures aren’t likely to improve any time soon – the figures do not account for the recent downfall of Phones 4u, the majority of whose 700 units have not been reoccupied. London and the east of England were the only regions that didn't see an overall decline while the north-west and east midlands were hardest hit.
It's not like there's a lack of desire for these units; many ecommcerce companies would jump at the chance to gain a physical presence. But faced with landlords unwilling to offer competitive rents and a business rates system which unfairly penalises the high street, the numbers often just don't add up.
The nature of the shops that remain is also changing. DVD rental shops have virtually disappeared and building society branches, clothes shops and pawnbrokers are also shrinking in number. In their place we're seeing more coffee shops, restaurants and bookmakers.
'We're heading for a High Street based around immediate consumption of food, goods and services or distress or convenience purchases,' said Mark Hudson, retail leader at PwC. 'I'm not sure that's what customers really want - but consumer and business economics are pointing in that direction at the moment.'
Separate figures from Experian yesterday appeared to support this, showing a 186% rise in convenience stores, a 173% rise in tattoo parlours and a 114% rise in the number of gyms.
Experian senior consultant Richard Jenkings said, 'The high street has clearly become a more social environment, with more restaurants, cafes and leisure facilities emerging up and down the country. We have seen a clear expansion in the number of retailers where the customer actually needs to be there in person to enjoy the experience, such as cafés, health clubs and even tattooists.'