The UK high street has had a more than averagely difficult year with many retailers and restaurants shutting up shop in the face of Brexit uncertainty, depleted consumer confidence, shrunken spending power . . . and the weather.
At the beginning of 2018 a host of retailers blamed the Beast from the East for lower than expected footfall, only to suffer the same problem as the months wore on and Europe basked in an unusually hot and extended summer.
While some shops, including Toys R Us, went bust over the year, a larger number negotiated emergency agreements with creditors to avoid going under — known as company voluntary agreements.
As part of their CVAs, which allow businesses to renegotiate leases and rental levels with landlords, retailers including Carpetright, House of Fraser and Homebase closed hundreds of sites over the year.
Restaurants too suffered, with casual dining chains particularly badly hit by oversupply and lukewarm demand. A flurry of CVAs were agreed by the owners of brands such as Gaucho, Jamie’s Italian and Byron Burger as part of rescue packages, and branches of chain restaurants across the country closed their doors.
Some shops and restaurants still managed to buck the downward trend and increased their presence across the UK’s struggling high streets, shopping centres and retail parks. Discount fashion retailer Pep&Co, which has concessions in Poundland, did particularly well.
That was despite the fact that discount stores and electrical goods shops were the categories that saw the biggest reduction in stores over the year, according to Local Data Company research. In March, Poundland put its 99p Stores brand into administration, while Poundworld suffered a string of closures to avoid total collapse.
The Local Data Company said it expects vacancy rates — which rose 0.3 percentage points in 2018 — to reach highs not seen since 2015 in the new year, rising above 11.7 per cent.
Along with heavy discounting to lure reluctant shoppers through their doors, trading conditions that Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley described as the “worst on record” have another upside for consumers.
International brands have been taking advantage of the large supply of available property and lower rents to open in the UK, according to the Local Data Company, offering fickle British customers something new to try.
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