In the second half of 2012, the number of independent stores that closed on the UK high street outnumbered those that opened, the first time the number has been negative for two years, according to data released today.
In H2 2012, 7,743 independents ceased operating while 7,704 opened, a decline of 0.03 per cent though over the year as a whole, openings exceeded closures with a net change of 0.55 per cent, according to research by the Local Data Company (LDC).
Comparison goods stores fell by 0.42 per cent over the half year as 146 units closed their doors though convenience retailers proved increasingly popular with a further 67 independent stores opening, a rise of 0.75 per cent on the same period a year earlier.
Independent stores now account for 69 per cent of all retail and leisure units in Britain, with charity shops, health & beauty retailers and bakers all reporting growth, while clothing retailers, florists and bookshops have experienced the greatest decline in store numbers.
Commenting on the figures, Matthew Hopkinson, Director at the LDC said: “This latest analysis of independents is a major wake up call for town centres.
“The fact that the second half of 2012 saw the first negative change since 2010 is of major concern and the implications are significant.
With over 300,000 independents across Great Britain, a marginal turn for the worse can create a large number of additional vacant units in a very short space of time.
“With the independent average for town centres having risen to 69 per cent, the potential for further dramatic change to our high streets is enormous.”
Regionally, Wales saw the greatest drop in store numbers showing a fall of 3.3 per cent followed by the North East which reported a decrease of 1.85 per cent.
Telford has the fewest number of independent stores at 25.9 per cent, though this has risen 3.9 per cent on 2011 while Scotland saw the greatest increase at two per cent.
“As with the recent vacancy rates Wales and the North are experiencing the greatest challenges,” Hopkinson noted.
“Comparison goods, your traditional high street shops, are closing at the fastest rate ever with significant decline in the Wales, the North East and the North West.
“The big question is whether this latest negative turn for the worse is the start of a downward spiral or merely a blip?
“The drawdown of the multiple anchors (-2.7 per cent or 1,800 units in 2012) and the rising operating costs for these independents sadly suggests the former as town centres compete as just one of many destination choices for the ever demanding and technologically savvy consumer.
“The recent declining footfall figures in town centres reflect these changes.”