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Retail at bay 2018
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Retail At Bay 2018 - New Report

RETAIL AT BAY 2018 is a new report from the Centre for Retail Research, published in May 2018. It updates CRR's 2013 report, Retail Futures 2018 which forecast that by 2018 one-in-five stores open in 2013 would have closed. To get a full copy, see end of this webpage.

Retail At Bay 2018

  • analyses in depth the main retail issues of 2018
  • discusses how consumer demands have changed
  • assesses how retail got into this state
  • estimates changes in retail shop numbers in 2012-17 and forecasts for 2017-22
  • forecasts the growth in online retailing 2017-22
  • provides a framework for action for high streets to survive and prosper.

Retail at bay report - 2018


2018 will probably be the worst year for bad retail news since the recession in 2008, when Woolworths collapsed. In the first 100 days of 2018, 18 large and medium-sized retail companies collapsed into administration involving almost as many stores and certainly more jobs (13,500) than in the whole of 2017. Six retailers are using CVAs to close 286 stores (6,000 employees at risk), the Homebase group has been sold for £1 (11,500 jobs at risk) and other retailers including M&S daily announce closures and partial retreat.

The crisis is really two crises: one is the rapid decline and loss of market share of many well-respected store groups; and the second is what this means for high streets and town centres that since the war have been built around the needs of major retailers.

Seven years after Portas, the government seems passive about the whole thing, uncertain what to do about the potential closure of thousands of shops, redundancy for hundreds of thousands of employees and despoilment of town centres.


  • Since 2008, ten years ago, retail - once one of the most successful UK businesses - has gone into slow decline. Its decline is now speeding up. Correct to 18 May 2018, a total of 409 large and medium sized retailers have gone into administration since 2008, with 28,378 retail stores and 280,425 employees. To put this into context, the equivalent of just under one-in-ten retail employees at 2013 has been affected by administration in the past ten years. In the previous ten years it would have been about one-in-fifty.
  • Other contributory factors include weak consumer demand caused by slow growth, the triumph of online retailing, intensive price competition, and the fall in the share of consumer spending that goes on retail merchandise (travel, eating out, experiences, weddings, bars etc are generally growing more quickly than retail). A very rapid growth in costs recently has done for many retailers (and restaurants also), caused by sterling's depreciation, the growth of the National Living Wage and business rates.
  • The financial model of the traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer was based on regular increases in sales, 25-year leases with upwards-only rent reviews, high rents and occupancy costs and some freedom within limits to set prices. This is now broken as a result of: pared-down discounters that focus on the cheapest price and online retailers with low operating costs that can provide virtually any product, quickly, at a lower price.


  • We expect online retailing to reach 17.8% of the market in 2018 (Fig 1), around £61.4bn in sales. Online's share of the food and grocery market will be about 6.3% and its share of nonfood, 26.5% - the highest ever. As more than a quarter of nonfood sales will be in the hands of online sellers that means that many nonfood shops, from music to shoe shops to department stores are not needed any more.

Figure 1

actual and forecast graph


We estimate that around 10,000 stores will close in 2018 and, as a result, the number of stores still in the retail industry will be more than 317,000 (Table 1). This marks a total fall of more than -71,000, equivalent to an -18.4% drop in stores. This is admittedly slightly lower than the proportionate drop we projected long ago in 2013, but by 2019 the forecast should come right.

Table 1
Totals Store Numbers 2012-17 and 2012-18

Totals Store Numbers 2012-17 and 2012-18


Store vacancies now according to Local Data Company (LDC), the standard now for measuring vacancies, have been running at or about 11.9% for some time, though they hit 14.3% in 2011. The vacancy rate in Scotland seems to have improved in recent years, although Wales remains a problem. Store vacancies at a regional level inversely reflect regional incomes and spending: with a few exceptions the more prosperous areas, such and London and the South East, have lower vacancies in their shopping areas, the less prosperous do not (Fig 2). 26% of vacancies have been empty for four or more years.

Figure 2

store vacancies by region 2017
[derived from LDC data]


The pattern of store numbers in the UK (Fig 3) shows a general fall in the period 1950-70 caused by slum clearance and the replacement of small independents by larger chain stores, then these in turn were replaced by larger grocery and nonfood stores and by large scale town-centre redevelopment. Since the mid-2000s, there has been a large drop in store numbers. Many retail stores have become restaurants, coffee shops, hairdressers, tattoo parlours and wellness clinics.

Figure 3

number of retail stores 1950-2018


Business rates are a major cost now for bricks-and-mortar retailers, but not for online businesses. Business rates are the equivalent of 2.3% of bricks-and-mortar retailers' sales and 0.6% of online traders' sales and prevent shops competing effectively with their online rivals. This year, traditional stores are expected to pay £7,168mn in business rates for 2018-19 and online retailers only £457mn (6% of the total retail rates bill).

The report recommends government action now to replace business rates with a new measure calculated by (a) revised business rates, without exemptions, plus (b) a turnover tax as a short-term more equitable measure, which is non-discriminatory, reduces the rate bills of independent retailers having lower sales, and increases the rate bill for online traders to a level comparable with shop retailers.


High streets are a vibrant and important part of town centres. In 2000, high streets were responsible for 50% of all retail spending. Our research found this was now 36.6%.

High streets need to change from being primarily retail-led to becoming a leisure-and-entertainment focus with an important retail presence.

HELP FOR HIGH STREETS. The success of every high street is linked to the success of its town or conurbation. If they are declining then the high street is likely to be declining. New strategies are needed particularly for the areas facing the greatest decline.

PUMP PRIMING FUND. We recommend that a pump-priming fund of £450 million be set up to support high-street re-engineering. This would encourage large property companies and local councils to get involved strategically in developing town centres through micro-projects, turning failing or empty stores into successful places or residential accommodation. Perhaps 15,000 - 20,000 new homes could be created over four years, buildings modernised, vacant or under-used buildings developed, former retail outlets converted into successful service-based units or small office facilities, spaces for entertainment/leisure, doctor's surgeries, classrooms and meeting rooms.

The new leisure-and-entertainment economy is not just a matter of announcing a new policy, it needs management. The civic authorities also need to ensure they do not overreact to retail's problems by allowing many essential retail businesses that could be retained to leave the high street.


Retail At Bay 2018 does not take the view that eventually every store will close and every high street abandoned. New uses will be found for existing retail outlets combining the advantages of online retailing with the advantages of shopping in stores. Retail stores will remain an important, although smaller, part of retailing in high streets, malls and retail parks as online continues to grow.

  • Online continues. By 2022 we expect online retailers to be responsible for 22.7% of retail sales, including one-third (33.9%) of nonfood. The effects of this shift to online upon bricks-and-mortar stores will be dramatic. We do not expect online to carry on growing at the same rate for ever.
  • More shops to close. From 2017 to 2022 we expect a total of 31,005 stores to close, a fall of -23.6% since 2012. Many of these stores will be larger than average and will have a greater impact upon the number of redundancies.
  • Further Job Losses. We expect the further fall in retail store numbers will produce 384,500 job losses. Additional losses will occur as retailers pare their staff down to minimum numbers to reduce costs as sales decline. This will add a further 168,000 job losses, a combined total of 552,500 job losses, equivalent to almost one-in-five (19.4%) of the retail labour force.

We feel there is a danger that, left to itself, with no government action and no extra funding and zero action on business rates, there will be an overreaction to current problems - excessive store closures and too many high streets abandoned.


Please send an email to with subject heading 'Retail At Bay 2018' (it does not need to be precisely that) and we will send you the address from which it can be downloaded. Please don't telephone. There is no charge.

If you wish to cite the report, this should be (in your preferred version of the Harvard system) as

Bamfield, J.A.N. (2018) Retail At Bay 2018 Report, May, Norwich: Centre for Retail Research.

retail at bay 2018 report

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