More than 650 chain stores disappear from Scotland's high streets during pandemic

More than 650 chain stores closed their doors for the final time on Scottish high streets last year as the economic carnage from the pandemic mounted.

There were 1,264 shop closures in 2020 compared with 612 openings, according to the latest PwC research compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC).

The overall number of closures, which do not include stores temporarily closed because of lockdown restrictions, is broadly in line with 2019’s total.

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When openings are taken into account the net change in store numbers is -4.1 per cent in Scotland compared with -4.5 per cent across Britain – where there were 17,532 closures compared to 7,655 openings.

PwC - 'Hanging above our data for this year however, is Covid-19. Many of the CVAs and administrations in the early part of 2021 are not captured in this data.'

PwC noted that even discounting the likely final impact of the pandemic, 2020 was the worst performance in recent years, with the net closures higher than in any of the five previous years.

The 4.1 per cent reduction accelerates the rate at which stores have disappeared from towns and cities across Scotland. In 2019, the year-on-year change was -2.9 per cent. In total, there are 2,500 fewer chain stores than at the end of 2015.

This year is likely to lead to fresh fallout for the sector amid the demise of Debenhams and Topshop owner Aracdia Group.

The research also highlights the long-term impact of “digital migration” in the retail industry, as more and more consumers opt for click and deliver over visiting physical stores.

This shift is felt most acutely on high streets, with 883 closures over the period leading to a net loss of 432 stores.

Shopping centres in Scotland felt the biggest impact in percentage terms with 279 closures and 103 openings leading to a 7.4 per cent reduction in stores. Retail parks proved to be the most resilient sector with just 102 closures, compared to 58 openings, giving a net change of -3.2 per cent.

AcrossBritain, the net change on the high street was -5.7 per cent with shopping centres at -7.1 per cent and retail parks at -3.3 per cent.

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PwC said footfall was already holding up better in retail parks before the pandemic due to their investment in leisure, and some retail parks have benefitted by being anchored by essential retailers that have remained open, even during full lockdown.

A drop off in high street footfall has affected those multiple retailers located on high streets, particularly those in large city centres, the report noted. However, this decline in multiples has been somewhat offset by growth in interest of local and independent operators.

Jason Higgs, head of retail for PwC Scotland, said: “The bricks and mortar of Scotland’s retail sector continues to be influenced by changing consumer habits, ahead of all else. This means we continue to see far more stores being closed than being opened.

“Though this year, we are for the first time beginning to see a discernible gap between city centres and shopping centres, which are faltering, and retail parks, which are performing more resiliently with a mix of big-name brands in convenient locations surrounded by ample free parking.

“Hanging above our data for this year however, is Covid-19. Many of the CVAs and administrations in the early part of 2021 are not captured in this data.”

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