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Published
Feb 21, 2022
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Fashion chain stores and high streets hardest hit in 2021's closure spree - report

Published
Feb 21, 2022

Over 17,200. That’s the number of chain store units that were lost to the pandemic and online retail last year, with physical fashion retailers and high streets taking the biggest hit, according to accountancy firm PwC.


Image: Nigel Taylor


But it isn’t all bad news. Data suggests the rate of closures is slowing with more independent firms taking up vacated spaces.

Although 2021 was “extremely challenging” for retailers, research compiled by the Local Data Company also shows, the number of empty units is no longer increasing.

"The worst could now be over" said Lisa Hooker, head of consumer markets at PwC, as the rate of closures were likely to continue to slow this year “as the weakest firms had already closed.”

But Hooker also said location had been key to determining which retailers had survived the year and were driving some firms to relocate.

And within the changing retail landscape “location matters most to consumers and whilst city centres and shopping centres falter, retail parks and standalone operators have broad appeal,” she added.

The overall figures for last year are around 500 fewer chain store closures than in 2020 that witnessed the biggest decline on record as the Covid-19 pandemic initially caused widespread devastation.

But it was the fashion sector that bore the brunt with 1,392 multiple retailers/chains with more than five outlets shuttering, adding up to almost four net closures a day.

“The last two years have seen a shake-out of some large fashion and department store chains who were on the brink of collapse,” PwC said, notably the loss of Arcadia’s basket of fashion brands including Topshop, plus a raft of Debenhams, House of Fraser stores and Gap becoming a pure online retailer.

And the firm also noted that the pressure on chain retailers had been heightened due to the withdrawal of most government support measures in July 2021.

However, last years’s overall closures were offset by 7,160 stores opening, giving a net decline of 10,059, according to PwC. And the rate of closures stabilised last year with 47 stores closing per day compared to 48 in 2020.

But it was high streets that continued to be the hardest hit last year with 6,887 closures, offset by 2,600 openings. Standalone stores witnessed 6,460 closures and 2,970 openings; shopping centres were down 2,674 with 984 openings; and retail parks doing the best with just 1,197 closures and 604 openings.

The report noted that the pandemic “accelerated the changes already under way across retail, causing upheaval for many high streets and town centres”.

But it added there was also a “significant uptick” in independent retail and leisure businesses opening sites in units left vacant by chains.”

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