The UK's retail chains closed an average of 14 stores a day in 2011, as retailers exited more shops than they opened for the first time.
The number of outlets of bookshops, electricals, home furnishings and menswear chains, as well as off-licences, pubs and travel operators, fell last year.
But charity stores, pound shops, bakers, credit unions and supermarkets continue to expand, according to a survey by PwC and the Local Data Company.
As the downturn bites, the reduction in stores shows how multiple retailers are responding to high rents and hikes in business rates.
The findings also underline the pressure on non-food retailers from the big supermarkets and the shift to sales moving online.
PwC found a 0.25 per cent fall in store numbers last year, a net reduction of 174 shops, across 500 towns.
Mike Jervis, an insolvency partner at PwC, said: "A common feature of retailers in distress who we are dealing with is that they have too many locations."
According to PwC, 28 per cent of consumers bought at least half their shopping online at Christmas.
Christine Cross, the chief retail adviser to PwC, said: "Inevitably, the reduction in consumer confidence and growth in online spend has placed pressure on retail return on space."
The rate of closures is expected to rise, as half of retail leases in the UK come up for renewal by 2015.
Matthew Hopkinson, at the Local Data Company, said: "In the past the closures were offset by openings, but 2011 has shown a true decline in multiple retail and leisure outlets across Great Britain."