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Coronavirus: Almost 11% of UK stores are vacant as pandemic hammers high street

Edmund Heaphy
·Finance and news reporter
·2-min read
As Britain enters a period of deep recession, some shops remain closed with shutters down either temporarily or permanently as the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic cuts hard on the high street as with shops like the shirtmaker TM Lewin 12th August 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The Office for National Statistics / ONS has announced that gross domestic product / GDP, the widest gauge of economic health, fell by 20.4% in the second quarter of the year, compared with the previous quarter. This is the biggest decline since records began. The result is that Britain has officially entered recession, as the UK economy shrank more than any other major economy during the coronavirus outbreak. (photo by Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images)
The pandemic and its associated public health restrictions have sent dozens of retailers into administration. Photo: Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images

Almost 11% of shops in the UK are now vacant as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hammer high street footfall across the country, according to new data.

Retail intelligence firm Springboard said on Thursday that 10.8% of stores were empty in July, the highest level since January 2014.

The figure, up from just 9.8% in January 2020, comes as high street footfall fell more than 30% in August compared to the same month last year.

While vacancies climbed in around 60% of the country, the Greater London area has been by far the most affected, with the number of vacant shops in the capital and its environs rising by nearly two-thirds in July.

Though the country’s retail sector was already struggling, the pandemic and its associated public health restrictions have sent dozens of retailers into administration.

READ MORE: European stocks climb after surge on Wall Street

Debenhams, the Oasis and Warehouse group, Monsoon, Quiz, Victoria’s Secret, and Laura Ashley are among the firms that have collapsed in recent weeks and months.

Several major retailers, including Marks and Spencer (MKS.L) and Boots, have collectively slashed tens of thousands of jobs since the onset of the pandemic in March.

Retailers have been particularly affected by the number of people who continue to work from home — something that has dealt a huge blow to normally thronged city centres across the country.

The Centre for Retail Research has warned that job losses in the sector could broach 235,000 this year, primarily as a result of more than 20,600 store closures.

Footfall in August nonetheless improved compared to July, Springboard said on Thursday. And while retail sales in the UK have now climbed beyond pre-pandemic levels, that is partly due to a surge in online spending.

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In July, sales at clothing and footwear retailers were still 25% lower than they were a year ago.

The data comes after the British Retail Consortium reported another month of falling prices in shops. Shop prices fell 1.6% in August, following a 1.3% decline in July.

The fall was driven by collapsing prices for non-food items like clothing, beauty products, and shoes. Non-food prices fell by 3.4% in August compared to a year earlier.

“This result brings into sharp focus the difficulties faced by large cities in attracting customers back and the impact of this on our bricks and mortar retail landscape,” said Springboard director Diane Wehrle on Thursday.