THE rate of store closures across Scotland’s high streets slowed last year, sparking hopes of a return in retail confidence, according to research.
Some 302 shops shut in 2013 compared to 353 the previous year - a 14 per cent drop in outlets pulling down the shutters.
On the other hand, 271 new stores opened, meaning the overall net result last year was a decline of 31 stores in Scotland.
The figures were contained in PwC research compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC).
It found a “more positive picture” emerged last year, with the net reduction in the number of stores falling by nearly 60% from the 2012 level of 77.
According to the data, Scotland’s retail recovery is ahead of other areas such as the South East of England and the East Midlands, which experienced net losses of 65 and 70 stores respectively in 2013.
Caroline Roxburgh, head of private business at PwC in Scotland, said: “After a tough few years for the retail sector, it’s encouraging to see the pace of store closures finally slow down.
“Coupled with a 60 per cent decline in net closures year-on-year, this hopefully signals a return in retail confidence. The challenge will be for the retail sector to sustain this performance throughout 2014.”
She continued: “It’s perhaps important to remember that many of these closures have been the result of major UK-wide insolvencies such as Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster.
“Here in Scotland, we’ve seen the recycling of many of these outlets by convenience stores as multiple grocers seek ways to increase further their market share, as well as the usual growth in charity stores, cheque cashing and betting shops. It remains to be seen how close to capacity these sectors are, especially as we start to climb out of this recession.”
Across the UK, closures by multiple retailers - shops with more than five outlets - slowed from 20 stores a day in 2012 to 16 last year.
In Scotland, photographic shops, clothing stores, banks, computer games stores, travel agents and shoe shops were among the hardest hit last year, the figures showed.
Convenience stores, charity shops, three-star hotels, betting shops, cheque cashing and sports good shops bucked the trend by showing growth during the year.
But Ms Roxburgh warned that the pattern of overall store closures is expected to continue for a while yet.
“We’ve seen the transformation of our high streets continue during 2103 as consumers increasingly adopt the newer digital channels and technologies available to them,” she said.
“Casualties have been in those areas where we have seen a rapid shift online - travel, fashion, digital photography and DVDs, and banks - and it is likely these trends will continue.
“As Christmas trends demonstrated, consumers are only at the start of the digital journey. Even though we may be on an upturn we expect the pattern of net store closures to continue well into the future.”