One in seven shops across Britain is lying empty – with the number rising over the last three months even as the economy reopened, new figures show.
The vacancy rate across high streets, retail parks and shopping centres rose to 14.5% in the second quarter, according to a report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Local Data Company.
It was up from 14.1% in the first quarter and 12.4% in the second quarter a year ago – and is the latest in a continual series of increases over three years.
Topman and Topshop are among the Arcadia brands that now exist only online
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “It comes as no surprise that the number of shuttered stores in the UK continues to rise, after retailers have been in and out of lockdown for over a year.”
She warned that this could rise further now that the business rates holiday helping firms through the pandemic has come to an end.
Shopping centres, housing a high proportion of hard-hit fashion retailers, have been worst affected.
For these locations, vacancies stood at 19.4% while for retail parks the rate was a less dismal 11.5% – though here the loss of larger so-called “anchor” stores that draw shoppers to the area has been an increasing problem.
High street vacancies, at 14.5%, were in line with the overall rate.
The figures also showed a North-South divide with greater London at 11.1% having the lowest level of shop vacancies, followed by the South East and the East of England.
Gap struggles to be relevant to shoppers
The worst affected region was the North East with 20.6% of units shuttered, followed by Wales and the North West.
Lockdowns over the past year have intensified pressure on a sector that was already being squeezed by online competition.
It proved the final straw for the likes of Debenhams and Topshop owner Arcadia, which had already been flirting with collapse in recent years – and now survive only through digital brands.
Industry figures published earlier this month showed that retail sales enjoyed their best quarter of growth on record in the April-June period as non-essential stores reopened.
But it was online channels, which have enjoyed strong growth through the pandemic, which continued to show the fastest expansion.
At the same time, footfall numbers have shown visits to shopping areas remain stubbornly below pre-pandemic levels, despite pent-up demand from consumers as stores reopened.