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High streets evolve in the light of the ‘perfect storm’ of online, austerity and out-of-town: study

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High streets are evolving in the face of a ‘perfect storm’ driven by online retail, austerity and out-of-town shopping, a new study suggests. In the last two years, the number of shops selling products that are currently being digitised has fallen by 13%, says today’s study from the Local Data Company and the Oxford Institute of Retail Management. That includes those selling books, computer games, CDs and DVDs as well as newsagents and equates to the closure of more than 1,000 stores between 2011 and 2013. The fall is spread evenly across independents and chain retailers and, says the report, represents a loss of diversity on the high street.

Fashion retailing has also been hit hard over the same period, with women’s clothing chain stores down by 13%. At the same time, independent outlets have fallen in number by 6%. Together that represents the closure of more than 500 stores.

But the mix of stores on the high street has changed as other retailers grow their store numbers. Value shops are up by 12.4%, or more than 1,100, to more than 10,000, while pawnbrokers, pay-day lenders and betting shops have grown by 17% since 2011. Growth has also been seen in food stores, and particularly among independent stores. Independent convenience stores are up by 17%, while multiples are up by 8%. Health and beauty shops, such as nail salons, hairdressers and tattoo parlours, have grown in number by 10.4%, or more than 2,300, in the last two years. Today, found the report, there are now more nail salons on British high streets than Chinese restaurants.

Since 2011 stores owned by chains have fallen by 5% on high streets and if current trends continue that could reach a further 13% fall by 2013 – the equivalent of 5,000 closures. But, argue the report authors, the reality is likely to be more complex.

“We’re replacing the hype generated about the future of our High Streets with analysis based on the hard evidence of what is actually happening in terms of the extent and mix of businesses in town centres, and how this is changing,” said Dr Jonathan Reynolds, academic director at the Oxford Institute of Retail Management Said Business School, Oxford University. “Many high streets are already evolving to accommodate both the effects of online business as well as the needs of shoppers in some areas for more value-driven retailing. The most successful high streets will need to be increasingly diverse and adaptable places, and not just in terms of their retail offer. Services also play an important role in attracting shoppers. And so there are some good news stories in our analysis, as well as some more sobering insights.”

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, said: “The level of detail and analysis that this research has shown is, in my view, a key component to understanding the fundamental changes taking place in our town centres.” He added: “The decline of a town centre may be seen by some as only the increase of vacancy rates but for others, including Ed Milliband, it may be considered as the decline of occupational quality or a significant number (clustering) of one type of offer which is deemed as undesirable.

“Knowing what and where this is happening is half the battle. This research shows that this is possible and our future plans intend to highlight the ‘at risk’ locations of the future.”

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