High Street showing 'great resilience'

 

How some shops in Weston-super-mare have closed but been re-invented

About one in five High Street shops affected by the biggest retail collapses of the last five years is still vacant, new research suggests.

Accountancy firm Deloitte also found that the High Street was outperforming retail parks and shopping centres when it came to re-occupying empty shops.

Many big names, including HMV, Comet and Blockbuster, went under as the recession hit and online shopping grew.

But Deloitte said the High Street was "showing great resilience."

The firm analysed data from 27 major company administrations since 2009, many where it had an involvement in the process.

Then, using data from the Local Data Company, it traced the fate of nearly 5,900 shops.

Snapshot: Weston-Super-Mare

Icelandz

Weston-Super-Mare is a traditional seaside town that was hit hard by a wave of retail collapses.

Like many places, the loss of Woolworths, right in the heart of the high street, was a big shock. And plenty more shop closures followed.

It is by no means out of the woods, but it isn't all bad news either. Woolworths is now a Poundland, Blockbuster has turned into Iceland, and the building which was home to the department store chain TJ Hughes, has finally been sold for redevelopment, after standing empty for two years.

Retail is clearly still important for this town, but it also knows that it has to come up with good reasons for people to come into the centre.

The big, shiny Cribbs Causeway mall is just a short drive away up the M5, and lures in a lot of shoppers.

There's a new development taking shape, close to the seafront, where the focus will be on leisure, with a big new cinema and restaurants.

In the old days, retail would have led the way.

Not any more.

Nearly a third of these premises were never vacated.

Many retailers, of course, did not disappear from the High Street, although they did come out of administration with fewer shops.

More than 4,000 stores, though, were vacated in one form or another.

'Structural shift'

There are some big regional differences, with some areas faring better than others.

For instance, Greater London has a vacancy rate of 18%, compared with the north-west of England which has a vacancy rate of 32%.

But perhaps the most striking detail in this research is the evidence that the High Street has done better than other parts of retail.

Deloitte found that the average vacancy rate for the High Street is 20%, but it rises to 29% for shopping centres and 37% for retail parks.

The author of the report, Hugo Clarke, said the High Street had recovered much better than expected.

"The results of this research are surprising and seem to challenge a number of myths around the state of the High Street," he said.

"They would suggest that far from being dead, the High Street appears to be showing great resilience and a capacity for re-invention.

"It seems that a structural shift is taking place with the High Street emerging as an unexpected winner."

And Jon Copestake, a retail analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, agrees that there is a change under way.

"Specialist stores that closed in the face of online competition or due to product obsolescence - such as Jessops and Blockbuster - are being replaced by major chains like Morrisons stepping up their convenience offering, or by discounters looking to tap into consumer austerity drives," he said.

'En route' shopping

So what kind of businesses have filled the gaps?

Deloitte found that discount and pound shops acquired one in five of the empty properties, with Poundland taking more than anyone else.

Convenience stores, including those run by supermarkets, have also expanded strongly, accounting for nearly 12% of the space, with close to three-quarters of them on High Streets.

Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, said the pattern suggested a big change in shopping habits was under way.

"Rather than taking shoppers away, the internet is pushing people back to shops with the growth of click and collect," he said.

"The evidence suggests that we may be entering a new era of 'en route' shopping, powered by mobile shopping and the demand for collection points strategically located at a point between where the consumer is travelling from and to."

In other words, the High Street these days is becoming more about convenience.

But things are far from rosy.

The Local Data Company believes there are still a total of 43,600 shops standing vacant. That is just under one in seven shops, on average.

Every town is different. But this research shows that, overall, things aren't quite as gloomy on the High Street as some people might think.

 

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