Independent retail remains resilient during pandemic

Despite mass store closures across the UK, there were still 31,405 openings of independent shops last year, according to new research by Local Data Company (LDC).

The retail data consultancy said that openings were outweighed by 32,847 closures, resulting in the independent market shrinking by 0.4 per cent at 1,442 shop closures in 2020.

The loss was actually slightly lower than in the previous year, which saw a 0.5 per cent net change and the closure of 1,521 stores.

The improvement demonstrates the resilience of the independent market, with entrepreneurs still able to launch new businesses, despite national restrictions.

The research also found that both independent openings and closures decreased by 11 per cent in 2020, as extended periods of lockdown suppressed market activity.

LDC said that the decrease in closures indicates that government support schemes designed to stem the flow of retail and leisure closures during the pandemic were more effective for the independent sector than chains.

The decline was minimal compared to the chain market which declined by 4.5 per cent in 2020.

Last week another study from LDC and PwC found that in total 17,532 chain stores closed last year, the worst decline on record.

The research found that on average 48 chain stores closed every day, with only 21 opening.

“Whilst the latest statistics do show that structural decline across the retail and leisure market picked up pace in 2020, it is clear that we are not yet seeing the full impact of the pandemic,” said Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at the Local Data Company. “The number of permanent closures recorded was lower than the previous year as a result of government interventions, yet a significant number of dormant businesses are still ‘temporarily closed’ following the first lockdown. It remains to be seen if these will re-open at all once restrictions are lifted.”

But she said that the volume of activity seen across the independent sector could be cause for optimism, as an increase in available retail units and more localised shopping habits create opportunities for those looking to open a business.

“This could mark a first step towards more diverse and resilient high streets across the country,” she added.

But further analysis that looks at how many independent stores opened in 2018 were still operational on 1st March 2021 demonstrates the fragility of the market, with only 64 per cent of those businesses still open.

The percentage of independent units that were able to survive for the two-year period also varies by region from as low as 54 per cent in the North East, to 72 per cent in the East of England with 84 per cent of independents in the city of Cambridge able to survive the course.

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