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Coronavirus pushes 11,120 UK shops to close

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
11,120 chain operator outlets have shut so far this year, while 5,119 shops opened. Photo: Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty
11,120 chain operator outlets have shut so far this year, while 5,119 shops opened. Photo: Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The first half of this year saw a record number of store closures in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to research by the Local Data Company (LDC) and PwC UK, 11,120 chain operator outlets have shut so far this year, while 5,119 shops opened. This means a net decline of 6,001 — almost double the decline tracked in 2019.

But, the count could be higher as researchers did not take into account shops which have yet to reopen following the COVID-19 lockdown, with the grim expectation that many will never operate again.

The UK’s services sector, which included retail, hotels, banks and restaurants has been hammered by the impact of COVID-19 and national lockdowns. The industry amounts to almost 80% of the UK’s economy.

Researchers examined shops, hospitality chains and services sector businesses such as banks and post offices, but excludes small independent stores.

UK’s high streets were already struggling prior to COVID-19.

While the pandemic and the lockdowns did exacerbate an already situation, data from LDC shows that shops were closing at an average rate of 16 per day in 2019.

The data reveals that York is the worst hit area in Britain with a net loss of 55 outlets. While Harpenden, in Hertfordshire fared better than any other area in the country with a net increase in stores.

Retail openings and closures for the first-half's of 2016 to 2020. Chart: Local Data Company
Retail openings and closures for the first-half's of 2016 to 2020. Chart: Local Data Company

READ MORE: COVID-19 and Brexit pushes Moody's to downgrade UK credit rating

Head of retail and strategic partnerships at LDC, Lucy Stainton, said: "For local authorities, it's now critical how they respond to this significant and growing decline in store occupants."

There is hope that amid the turmoil there continues to be a “steady flow of openings.”

Consumer markets leader at PwC, Lisa Hooker, said: "With the continued roll out of value retailers, the boom in takeaways and pizza delivery shops and demand for services that can still only be delivered locally, such as tradesmen outlets, building products or locksmiths, shows that despite the stark numbers there remains a future for physical stores.

"It's likely that whatever happens retail will come out of this smaller and stronger."

The pandemic influenced a shift to online shopping as the retail industry continues to reel from the coronavirus outbreak after lockdowns and working from home advice forced Brits to stay indoors.

On Friday, coffee and sandwich chain, Pret a Manger announced plans to close another six shops and cut around 400 jobs.

Earlier this month, Jaeger and Peacocks owner Edinburgh Woollen Mill announced that it was on the brink of collapsing putting more than 20,000 UK jobs on the line.

Owner, Philip Day is also holding crunch talks this weekend to salvage his retail empire and save it from being seized by administrators.

LDC and PwC analysed the changes in the top 500 shopping locations for the past 10 years. This year's findings include all high streets, shopping centres and retail parks in the UK. They've reviewed existing data to allow comparisons with the previous five years.

READ MORE: Pret a Manager to close another six stores and cut 400 jobs

Despite the store closures, in July, total UK retail sales continued to rebound more strongly than expected, after the first full month where the whole sector was allowed to re-open nationwide.

Official data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed the volume of retail sales rose 2% between June and July, when analysts had expected a 0.2% boost. Some analysts had expected sales to go into reverse.

The quantity and value of total sales also smashed through levels seen before lockdown, with both up 4.4% on February. They were also higher than levels seen a year earlier, and up by a quarter on levels seen at the height of lockdown, in Spring.

Watch: UK retail sales surge past pre-crisis levels