The number of empty shops in the UK rose during the last three months of 2020, industry data showed on Friday, as the Covid-19 pandemic closed stores and weighed heavily on customer demand.
According to the latest BRC-LDC Vacancy Monitor, the overall vacancy rate in the fourth quarter increased to 13.7%, compared to 13.2% in the previous three months. It was also 1.6 percentage points up on the fourth quarter of 2019.
All destinations saw an increase in shop vacancies. Shopping centre vacancies were 17.1%, compared to 16.3% in the previous quarter; high street vacancies rose to 13.7% from 13.3%; and retail parks nudged ahead to 10.0% from 9.2%.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: With the country in and out of lockdown, the forced closure of thousands of shops and consumers reluctant to visit town and city centres, it is unsurprising that the number of shuttered stores continues to rise.
“The big increase in vacancy rates during the crucial golden retail quarter, when demand is usually high, serves as a stark reminder of the pandemic’s impact.
“Social restrictions and their knock-one effect on consumer appetite for fashion has meant that shopping centres are still faring the worst, due to the high proportion of clothing outlets. What’s more, due to economic uncertainty, many retailers have paused their plans for the future investments in new stores.”
Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at Local Data Company, added: “This number only reflects the very immediate impact of the pandemic on the retail market. Hundreds of thousands of stores have been struck by changing restrictions and many of these remained temporarily closed in the intervening periods between lockdowns. Therefore, these businesses are not reflected in the permanent vacancy figures.
“With each round of restrictions, these frozen units are less likely to reopen and so we’re predicting the compound effect of each lockdown being visible in later figures.”