The retail sector could be strengthening in 2017 after years of decline, with new data indicating that more independent retail shops opened than closed in the first quarter of 2017.
According to the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), there was an increase of 414 indie shops in the first three months of 2017, or around four new stores per day, while national chains continued to decline.
This figure is compared to a net increase of just four shops in the first half of 2016 and a decline of 194 shops in the first half of 2015.
Other recent Bira data shows a net increase of 159 stores in 2016 overall, with 14,621 independent retail stores opening compared to 14,462 closing down.
This equates to a 36 per cent increase from 2015, where 117 independent retail shops were added across the UK.
The figures have been cautiously welcomed by experts, considering the UK’s political uncertainty and inflation impacting consumer confidence, coupled with the rising business rates.
Bira chief executive Alan Hawkins said: “One of the biggest challenges for retailers is attracting customers in the changing retail environment.
“Traditional retailers are under pressure and access to the technology that enables them to reduce costs, open new outlets or pop-ups, and easily offer ecommerce options can really stimulate growth.
“While our data for the first quarter of this year is still a way off the 11 store openings a week we saw in 2010, it is certainly a big step in the right direction for the sector.”
Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, which partnered with Bira for the research, said independent retailers were becoming more important to high streets.
“Year by year, the net gain of small businesses is accelerating, even as the net loss of chain stores increases,” he said.
“They are changing the face of our towns as well, as barbers and bars replace clothing shops and newsagents, with service and leisure gradually substituting for comparison shops.”
He added: “The high levels of openings and closures among independents must be seen as a sign of continued buoyancy in our towns.
“But there is no room for complacency – with a gain on balance of just 159 shops on the back of more than 29,000 openings in 2016, it would take very little for net gains to become net losses.”