How is High Street retail holding up?

More than 30,000 independent shops opened in 2015. That’s a huge number, especially considering the High Street is sometimes painted as a bleak and flagging sector by the mainstream media.

The Local Data Company (LDC) and British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) say that 34,288 indie stores opened in 2015 overall, while 33,812 closed, meaning the net change was 476 units, down from 559 a year prior.

Sparkhill in Birmingham has the accolade of the highest percentage of independents at 95 per cent of its total occupied units (based on locations with 50+ units). Telford, meanwhile, is the town with the least percentage of independents at only 18.1 per cent. The GB average is 65 per cent.

Shopping centres saw the biggest net increase in occupancy of 1.41 per cent.

Indies now account for 65 per cent of all retail and leisure units in Great Britain, down one per cent on 2014.

While analyst GfK doesn’t track UK IT indies in particular, it does look at consumer electronics.

GfK measured around £350 million worth of turnover for indies in 2015 across major consumer electronics, which according to its definition includes TVs, audio systems, Hi-Fi separate components like amplifiers and receivers, radio devices, DVD/Blu-ray players and more. This accounted for eight per cent of total consumer electronics against 10 per cent in 2014.

These figures are a mix of online and physical, though GfK says the bulk of indie data is bricks and mortar.

If you look at tech retail across Western Europe over the past couple of decades, however, the fall in the number of overall stores – including multiples – is somewhat alarming.

There were 12,756 fewer traditional PC outlets in 2014 on average than there were in 1998.

As of 2014, there were 18,202 fewer independent electrical stores than there were in 1998. However, the number of mobile phone shops and telecoms shops has risen by 20,625 in that time.

“Indies are a key component of our High Streets. They bring diversity and vibrancy.”

Matthew Hopkinson, Local Data Company

So while PC stores might be down in general, the mobile phone repairs sector is still booming, with thousands of indie shops cropping up across Europe.

On the bricks and mortar tech store sector in general, GfK supply chain director Carl West – speaking at Northamber’s Tech Expo late last year – says the worst is over for many indies.

“Some stores have fared better than others – for example it’s been quite a bloodbath for indie photo specialists, as smartphones have taken away the need for cameras,” he said.

“Computer specialists have shrunk but it’s stabilised. That rate of decline in the number of computer specialists has slowed down.

“Whatever they’ve done to their business – if they’ve bunkered down or sold through the recession – computer specialists have survived the worst of it.”

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, commented: “Independents are a key component of our High Streets. They bring diversity and vibrancy along with their direct connection to local economies.

“Whilst the numbers remain positive, the dramatic decline in the growth of indies from eleven openings a day to just one a week reflects the challenges many independent businesses face.

“One of the major factors has been the move of many High Street anchor retailers such as Next, M&S and River Island moving to out of town retail parks. These moves result in lower footfall volumes as people follow them out of town.

“2016 will be a pivotal year for independent births and deaths as history tells us that the ability to go from a large number of openings (+5,615 in H1 2010) to a large number of closures (-1,666 in H2 2010) in a short time is entirely possible. Only time will tell.”

Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, concluded: “Within the figures we see a powerful rebalancing away from product-based retail towards service providers, leisure operators and convenience operators. Very gradually we are seeing a new High Street emerge as commerce adapts to ever- changing conditions.”

Check out our list of 20 UK PC retail High Street Heroes in the latest issue of PCR.

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