One in five shops could shut down by 2018

The plight of the high street continues. According to a new report, 20% of shops could close within five years.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Shopkeepers will be quaking in their boots today at the news that some 62,000 stores could close by 2018.

The Centre for Retail Research (CRR), which investigates the effects of crime, technology and other trends on the retail sector, warns that the rise of online shopping is still eating away at the market share of UK high streets. In five years' time, 22% of of all purchases will be made online - double the current figure - causing a major high street crash.

The cost of opening and running high street stores has also become increasingly prohibitive, reckons the CRR report. In the last year, 16 major retailers have gone into administration, with 15,000 people losing their jobs.

If the CRR is correct, the closure of a further 62,000 shops by 2018 will mean that as many as 316,000 high street workers could be out of work, sending UK unemployment towards the worrying three million mark.

As the shops close, the bustling high streets of yore will be overtaken with high-rise apartment blocks and other housing schemes. An Oxford Street overtaken with student digs and gated communities? Some could argue that would be an improvement...

These gloomy predictions echo the warnings of 'retail guru' Mary Portas in 2011. She said that our high streets would become ghost towns without radical intervention from government. Of course, despite asking her to pen the review, the PM largely chose to ignore the recommendations, which included relaxing planning laws, slashing business rates, and simplifying licensing laws to allow people to set up their own market stalls easily.

This latest report also follows hot on the heels of a similar study by the British Retail Consortium, which showed that one in eight stores lay vacant in April, the highest levels since July 2011.

The first shops to go bust will be the pharmacies and health and beauty stores, reckons CRR, followed by retailers specialising in music, books, cards, stationery and gifts (WH Smith best watch out; it has already begun alienating consumers with its sky-high prices and 'messy' stores). Next to bite the dust: DIY stores. Indeed, profits are already falling at B&Q owner Kingfisher.

One of the main problems for high street shops, reckons the CRR report, is their high overheads. While it costs just £650 to £1,800 a month to open a warehouse on the outskirts of a UK town (to store stock for online retail), opening a small store on a high street in the Midlands will set you back about £10,000 a month.

So, the UK high street is definitely, definitely in trouble. What is government going to do about it? Well, if it succeeds in finally tying up those pesky tax loopholes (the ones that currently allow e-commerce giants like Amazon to avoid paying billions in UK corporation tax), perhaps some of that cash could be ploughed into lowering business rates and helping high street brands stay alive? Robbing ePeter to pay ye older Paule? Well, it's just a thought.

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