It's no secret that the High Street isn't having the best time right now. It was only reported last week that online sales will eliminate half of the high street by 2030, but a new report has come out revealing that the Welsh High Street isn't having as torrid a time as the rest of the UK.
That's not to say that it's all roses, however. The second annual report from WISERD and LDC shows the "contradictory dynamics of the retail landscape" in Wales over the past year. Persistent vacancy among shops in Wales is not improving with a significant amount remaining empty for three years or more – a clear indicator of oversupply. The report suggests that planners need to consider changes of use more systematically and to have a clear understanding of what a town can realistically sustain in the future based on the ever changing and increasingly demanding consumer.
However with that said the Welsh picture is far more optimistic than that of the rest of the UK. The report says that the number of empty shops in Wales fell in 2016 for the third consecutive year, though the rate of improvement is slowing. Similarly, shopping centres in Wales have fewer empty shops than either English or Scottish centres – part of the reason that more town centre shops are vacant. As for town centres, shop vacancy has improved faster in Wales than in England or Scotland over the same period, but it remains higher than in either.
So basically this is all to say that Wales' retail world is in a poorer condition, but it has greater momentum than either Scotland or England.
While the research doesn't focus on particular store types, it does highlight one classification of store that would definitely be of interest to IT: independents. The proportion of independent shops in Welsh towns is rising, contrary to popular belief, as this sector continues to demonstrate the value of its vitality to towns – yet the average percentage of independent shops in towns in Wales remains below that of the UK as a whole.
The research highlights that stability still reigns in many town centres in Wales where they remain a key destination for their communities, especially with the rise of convenience shopping and an ageing population who value the interaction and engagement that local shops have. This may not hold forever, the report says, as millennials prefer to shop on their mobile phones, and they are rising in number and economic significance.
Overall, this report paints a contradictory picture of Welsh retail, but presents it with a positive momentum that doesn't really seem to exist in the rest of the UK. Matthew Hopkinson, director at LDC commented: “Change in some towns is being helped by the reduction in the stock of redundant shops. This is no bad thing when shopping centres and retail parks are increasingly the key destinations for much consumer spend.
"The prospect for a town is clearly determined by the state of the local economy and the proximity of competing centres, as people now travel further to destination locations as mundane shopping can be done from the comfort of your sofa via the internet.”
This report was compiled by LDC. The group visited over 2,700 towns and cities (retail centres and government defined retail core), retail parks and shopping centres. Each premises was visited and its occupancy status recorded as occupied, vacant or demolished.