RETAIL store openings are beginning to outstrip closures in Scotland for the first time in several years, say new figures.
Almost four times as many traders opened in the first half of 2013 as in the same period in 2012.
The report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company found there was a net gain of 102 stores, with Glasgow and Edinburgh seeing the most new arrivals.
Businesses are still struggling, with three closing every day and 564 folding between January and the summer, though this is a significant improvement on six closures every day in 2011.
The report also found that the type of shops that remain open has shifted considerably.
Traditional high street stores such as fashion and clothes shops, photography outlets, entertainment retailers and jewellers were among the key casualties, researchers found.
In contrast, there has been a rise in discount stores, loans and cheque-cashing outlets, betting shops and budget hotels.
Scotland’s four largest cities – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee – were studied, plus four key regional towns – Ayr, Falkirk, Paisley and Perth.
Caroline Roxburgh, head of private business at PwC in Scotland, said the fact that more firms were surviving than folding was a sign of gradual economic recovery.
She said: “The Scottish retail sector has been able to tell a much more positive story in 2013 than in previous years, with reports emerging throughout the summer of year-on-year increases in retail sale figures.
“The challenge will be for the sector to build on its growing confidence and sustain this performance into 2014.”
Ms Roxburgh said the shift away from traditional retailing was linked to the trend towards internet shopping, while the rise in loans shops was typical of a recession. She said: “The shifts in the multiple store retailers we’re seeing on our high streets are a barometer for changes in our society and its habits.
“Closures in areas such as the photography and video sectors reflect the sea-change in how consumers are spending – the well-publicised insolvencies at Jessops and Blockbuster are stark proof of that. Women’s clothing store reductions reflect the intense competition in this sector and the impact online retailers are having on this market.
“Openings in areas such as cheque cashing and pawnbrokers reflects a society where a sizeable part of the population is forced to turn to these types of borrowing for basic needs.
“More convenience shops have opened as multiple grocers seek ways to increase further their market share.”
Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling, said that although the overall trend showed a rise in the number of retailers setting up, this was concentrated around Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the improvements in local high streets had been marginal.
Ayr, Dundee and Perth all showed more units closing than opening.
He said: “The big cities are able to look after themselves and the impact really is on towns as retailers withdraw from them. Topshop and B&Q, for example, have looked at what is sustainable and in many cases pulled out to focus on their big stores.”
Prof Sparks also said that the arrival of the type of new stores such as betting shops and cheque stores was not a negative one – each brings jobs and fills boarded-up premises – but an over-concentration in the same area can create a negative image.
He added: “It would be very wrong to think about some of these retailers moving in as a bad thing. If Woolworths, for example, had got its business model right it would have looked like Poundland.”