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News - 29 May 2013

A fifth of all shops could close by 2018

The Centre for Retail Research [CRR] is warning that High Streets could see one in every five retail outlets [over 60,000] close down within five years as more people buy online and bricks & mortar shops struggle to compete.

The CRR believes that as many as 316,000 workers could lose their jobs as large areas of Britain’s High Streets become housing. Sixteen major retailers have gone into administration this year alone, with the loss of almost 15,000 jobs. The CRR suggests that the cause will be the continuing expansion of online shopping which is currently about 11% but is expected to double to 22% by 2018. The report even predicts which will be the first shops to disappear: pharmacies and health & beauty stores followed by retailers specialising in music, books, cards, stationery and gifts.

The report contrasts the costs of opening a shop with opening an online warehouse. Opening a small store on a High Street in the Midlands would cost about £10,000 a month, whereas opening an equivalent space in a warehouse on the outskirts of a similar town would cost between £650 and £1,800 a month.

BUSINESS FORUM COMMENT

In 1999 the Business Forum’s newsletter [pictured] carried the headline “The future of retail . . .  in the palm of your hand”.

Still in the days of dial-up internet connection, it made the statement, “Without doubt traditional High Street shops are going to lose a chunk of their turnover to the internet" and asked the question, "how much and how will the High Street respond?” Fourteen years later, we know the answer: it’s heading for 22% and rising.

Retailers in Brighton & Hove have so far been either lucky or clever or both. Many of the small shops that make up the majority of our retail offer have embraced e-commerce and it complements their over the counter sales. Also, in Clone Town Britain the quirky nature of shopping areas like the North Laine and The Lanes has made them a tourist attraction in their own right. Hence our retail vacancy rate is just below 6% compared to a national figure over 14%.

That’s quite an achievement when you compare Brighton city centre, with over 1,400 shops [not including London Rd or St James’s St] with towns of similar profile like Oxford, Guildford and York with an average of just 580 shops. We need a lot of visitors to feed the retail supply.

It has become a cliché to say that town and city centres must offer a holistic experience to keep on attracting spending visitors with clean environments, high quality public realm, free entertainment and great customer service.

Brighton, like most places in the UK, had a disappointing retail Christmas and a wash-out Easter. It needs a good summer or the vacancy rate will start to creep up as shops in the rain struggle to compete with the comfort of the armchair for the average shopper’s custom.

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