5,000 UK chain stores closed in 2023 at the rate of 14 a day

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The UK saw nearly 5,000 more chain stores close last year, averaging 14 closures per day, as high streets grappled with the fallout from the collapse of Wilko, the withdrawal of banks and pubs, and other factors.

Pharmacies bore the brunt of closures, with 787 chain outlets disappearing, although many of these were Lloyds outlets acquired by independent pharmacies. Pubs followed closely, with a net closure of 722 venues, as Wetherspoon’s and Stonegate shuttered establishments.

While retail parks experienced a net increase in outlets, high streets suffered the most with a 3.3% decline in the number of trading sites. Banks closed a net 583 branches, redirecting their focus toward online services.

The closure of all 400 Wilko stores, following its administration in August, significantly impacted town and city centers. The demise of budget fashion chain M&Co and the administration of Joules also contributed to the closure of 325 fashion outlets.

Despite a record number of new chain outlets opening, led by takeaways, cafes, discount supermarkets, and petrol stations, closures outpaced openings, resulting in a net decline in the number of trading sites.

Lisa Hooker from PwC noted that the combination of pandemic effects and inflation accelerated chain store exits in 2023, with 14 closures per day. She also highlighted the shift in consumer habits towards online shopping, which mirrored the annual net closures in physical stores.

Looking ahead, Kien Tan, a senior retail adviser at PwC, anticipates a continued decline in the number of chain outlets due to the ongoing trend towards online shopping. However, he noted that chain hospitality growth may benefit from a shift towards experiential spending.

Lucy Stainton, commercial director of LDC, suggested that while economic headwinds and political uncertainty persist, increasing store openings indicate a potential narrowing of the gap between closures and openings as we progress through 2024.