More than one in seven stores are now vacant on UK shopping streets, shopping parks and malls, the highest proportion since at least 2015, as the Covid-19 pandemic has stepped up pressure on already weakened retailers.
Fashion stores have been hit particularly hard, with a major shift to online shopping during the pandemic and a lack of parties, events and parties to dress up.
Shopping centers, which tend to house more clothing stores, are now seeking tenants for a fifth of their units, according to a study by the Local Data Company and the British Retail Consortium.
Shifting shopping habits, along with a general shift in spending towards digital entertainment, mobile phones and experiences, has led to an unprecedented string of business bankruptcies in recent months. Department store Debenhams and the Arcadia Group, which owned Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, pulled out of Main Street, becoming online-only brands after being auctioned off to new owners.
North East England had the highest proportion of empty stores, at just over a fifth, and saw the largest increase from last summer as the region suffered from high rates of Covid and low disposable income. Greater London is doing the best, despite a drop in the number of tourists and commuters visiting the capital, with vacancy rates just over half of the rate seen in the North East.
Helen Dickinson, managing director of the British Retail Consortium, reiterated her call for the government to readjust property taxes levied on businesses that hamper retailers with brick-and-mortar stores compared to their fast-growing online rivals.
The government has said it will release a review of business tariffs this fall after giving retailers tax holiday throughout the pandemic. The tax break started rolling out last month and will end for all businesses in March.
Dickinson said: “The vacancy rate could rise further now that the Covid-19 business rate vacation is over. The government must ensure that the ongoing review of corporate tariffs leads to reform of this failing system, fulfilling its commitment to permanently reduce the burden of costs to sustainable levels. The longer the current system persists, the more we will see job losses and vacant stores, hurting staff, customers and communities across the country. “
Lucy Stainton, director of Local Data Company, said that with vacancy rates now at the highest levels recorded since the company began its survey in 2015, owners should be thinking of different ways to use empty stores. because there were not enough new retailers to fill. space.
But she said the numbers indicated an improving trend, with the increase in vacancy rates halving from the same period in 2020.
“After a first wave of [restructures], closures due to changes in consumer behavior and cost-cutting exercises, retailers are now starting to dust themselves off with cautious optimism, closely monitoring the rapidly changing rate of infection and the pace at which vaccinations have been rising. place – two steps that could seriously derail recovery efforts if they do not go in the right direction.