Retailers battle ‘drastic’ high street change

Across the UK, the fall in the number of high street shops accelerated three-fold last year. Picture: PA
Across the UK, the fall in the number of high street shops accelerated three-fold last year. Picture: PA
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Scotland’s high streets are undergoing a “drastic overhaul” as they tackle the onslaught of online sales, with charity shops, discount stores and coffee houses on the rise at the expense of banks, estate agents and fashion retailers.

Research published today by accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) lays bare the extent of the changes taking hold in many town and city centres. It found that 312 outlets closed in Scotland in 2014 – a rate of six per week – compared to 246 openings.

The net loss of 66 shops is more than double that recorded in 2013 as fewer stores were opened overall. The research, which is compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC), examines the rate of closures of multiple retailers – those with more than five outlets – in several key locations.

Some of the biggest net changes were in Dundee and Glasgow, both minus 16, and Edinburgh, which registered minus 14. Perth was the only location looked at where more stores opened in 2014 than closed. Charity shops, coffee outlets, tobacconists and e-cigarette vendors were the businesses most likely to open, while mobile phone shops, building societies and cheque cashing stores were the biggest losers.

Bruce Cartwright, head of business recovery services at PwC in Scotland, said: “The Scottish high street continues its drastic overhaul in response to the advance of online sales and changing consumer demand, with year’s numbers exposing the harsh impact of ‘macro’ changes on the high street.

“Regulation has blindsided the money shops, the advance of technology has hammered some phone operators and the internet continues to dent the clothing sector. Despite the Scottish economy reflecting healthy, sustainable growth during 2014 and into 2105, the net loss of shops has accelerated. The insolvencies of Phones4U, Blockbuster, Albemarle & Bond, and La Senza epitomise these 
factors.”

He added: “Despite the continuing problem of closures, new sub-sectors, such as discount shops and charity shops keep growing.”

Across the UK, the fall in the number of high street shops accelerated three-fold last year as a net 987 outlets shut their doors. An overall 5,839 stores closed, equivalent to 16 a day. This was little changed on 2013 (6,033 stores). But there were fewer openings, with 4,852 in 2014 and 5,662 the year before.

The research showed the rate of net closures had risen from 371 in 2013 though this was still lower than the record 1,779 in 2012. Martin Cowie, head of private business at PwC in Scotland, said: “Our high streets are continuing to transform as consumers increasingly adopt the newer digital channels, mobile technologies and smartphone apps available to them: traditional retail channels to market are being wiped out and new channels created.”

Matthew Hopkinson, director of LDC, said: “Our town centres continue to evolve away from traditional shops and services to leisure – food and beverage and entertainment. This is reflected by American and British restaurants featuring in the top ten risers along with the impact of click and collect services showing a 20 per cent growth in 2014.

“Change will continue and the area to watch in 2015 is the battle of the convenience and food store sector as supermarkets, the discounters and pound shops fight it out”

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