- The number of high street retailers rises 1.3% in 2020/21 despite multiple Covid-19 lockdowns
- The number of internet-only retailers jumps by 13.4% as online shopping remains a popular market for Brits
The number of high street shops has increased by 1.3% despite many being closed to physical customers for much of the past 18 months, according to analysis by leading law firm Nockolds.
Nockolds looked at data from National Statistics on the number of retail units by UK region and found that there are currently 257,250 retail outlets in the UK, up from 254,010 in 2019/20, an increase of 1.3%.
The retail sector performed best in London, where the number of shops increased by 4%, from 39,940 to 41,545.
The number of shops declined in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland by 0.1%, 0,8% and 0.9% respectively. The number of specialist clothing and footwear retail outlets declined by 2.4%, from 29,010 to 28,310.
The research also revealed that the number of online only retailers (those without a bricks and mortar presence) jumped by 13.4% over the same period, from 42,770 to 48,505.
James Griffiths, partner at Nockolds said: “The retail sector has shown impressive resilience during the enforced closures of the pandemic. There were fears that the closure of non-essential retail would lead to a bloodbath on the high street, but businesses showed themselves to be remarkably adaptable.”
“Many retailers have accrued significant rent debts and are negotiating with landlords over repayments. Most landlords have been very understanding and have agreed generous repayments terms for ring fenced rent debts. From 25 March 2022 landlords will be able to evict retailers for unpaid rent at which point we will likely see a surge in insolvencies.”
“Regional differences in the survival of retail businesses partly reflects regional variations in lockdowns. Restrictions on the retail trade tended to be more severe outside England, which has clearly seen retailers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland harder hit. Many non-essential retailers leaned heavily on click-and-collect services during lockdown, but these services were banned in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
He added that specialist clothing and footwear shops were among the hardest hit by lockdowns, with many people working from home and unable to go out there were fewer reasons to buy new clothes, which forced hundreds of specialist clothes retailers to close permanently.
Data published by the Insolvency Service shows that 221 high street shops became insolvent in England and Wales over the three months leading up to the first lockdown, which started on 23 March 2020.
In the March 2021 budget, the Government extended 100% business rates relief for eligible retail, hospitality, and leisure properties in England until 30 June 2021. The government also announced a transitional 66% relief will apply from 1 July 2021 to 31 March 2022.
Griffiths said: “Many high street retailers have been on life support for the past 18 months. Without government support, many would have collapsed. There are undoubtedly many zombie businesses on the high street staggering forward but unable to pay off their debts to commercial landlords.
“Next spring will be crunch time as business rates relief ends and landlords make decisions on whether occupiers should be evicted or wound up. Much will depend on whether landlords think they can find alternative occupiers.”
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