62,000 fewer shops: Welcome to the High Street of 2018

Blighty's retailers are doomed, says Centre for Retail Research

Tens of thousands of UK retailers will go pop over the next five years, leaving hundreds of thousands of their employees scratching about for work, says the Centre of Retail Research (CRR).

In a particularly bleak forecast, the sector-watcher says close to 62,000 of the near 282,000 outlets currently open for business in Blighty will close by 2018, resulting in 316,000 people looking for a new paymaster.

Online shopping has put pressure on traditional retailers but this alone is not responsible for declining sales. Consumer spending has risen 12 per cent since 2006 but this was outstripped by a 20 per cent hike in retailers' operating costs.

"It will be several more years until the UK returns to previous levels of growth: in fact GDP per head has not yet returned to the level it was in 2008," the CRR said.

It added that punters are "shunning the High Street" as their share of spending has slumped from 50 per cent in 2000 to a projected 40.2 per cent this year. The share of online trade is to rise from 12.7 per cent last year to 21.5 per cent by 2018 - the highest in the world.

And the proliferation of e-commerce means retailers need only 70 stores to build a national presence instead of 250 in the mid-2000s.

It has been a tough couple of years for the grand old retailers in consumer electronics - Best Buy went back to the US with its tail between its legs and a bunch of large UK retailers went under - including Comet, HMV and Jessops.

CRR expects another 164 major or medium-sized retailers to go under during the forecast period involving the closure of 22,600 outlets and the redundancy of 140,000 individuals.

Supposed retail guru Mary Portas was made High Street tsar in May 2011 and is overseeing a government-backed scheme, giving £100,000 to 12 towns including Bedford and Stockton-On-Tees in a bid to rejuvenate the High Streets and flagging retail sales.

But "in spite of the Portas Pilots" the High Street will "continue to suffer" said CRR, with Wales to be hit worst by store closures and vacancies followed by the North West and East Midlands. London is expected to be least impacted.

"UK is facing a crisis," said CRR. "Retailing and retailers will either make clear strategic decisions that permit online retail to coexist with other retail channels in a multichannel world allowing bricks and mortar retailers to transform themselves, or, by avoiding making these decisions, multiple retailers will disappear or be so mortally wounded that a large majority of business categories become dominated purely by online retailers".

The window of opportunity for retailers to transform operations to mirror the habits of a 21st century shoppers has already closed, analyst Canalys has previously said.

"They will never catch up with the internet specialists. They started late, under-invested and could not build a culture to excite talented programmers," said principal analyst Alastair Edwards. ®

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