Independent shops bounce back as customers shun retail chains

More independent stores opened in the last year than closed

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The Independent Online

Independent shops, bars and cafés are opening at their fastest rate in years as customers shun the big retail chains.

In a startling turnaround on previous years, more independent stores opened in the last year than closed, suggesting that while such companies as Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury are still in the doldrums, Britain’s high streets are not suffering as badly as analysts have claimed.

Shoppers turned to local outlets in record numbers, with net openings of 432 in the last six months. That was the result of 8,662 new independent retailers opening and 8,268 shutting their doors, according to the Local Data Company (LDC) and the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira). Last week PwC and the LDC revealed that town centres had 964 net closures of all types of stores between January and September, but this was mainly due to the collapse of high-street chains, including Phones 4U and La Senza.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the LDC, explained: “The growth in independents, the ‘silent majority’, is a significant factor in preventing vacancy rates [the number of empty shops] rising in our town centres and also reflects the consumer response to a more personal and unique offer that many independents bring.”

E-cigarette shops, barbers and independent cafés and restaurants were among the largest type of store to open in towns, while independent clothes and shoe stores closed.

The research also found that London’s Caledonian Road had the highest number of independent shops in the UK – making up 89 per cent of the area’s stores – with Salford being the most chain-store dominated, with just 24.4 per cent of independents.

Two-thirds of all high street outlets remain independent, with the South-west showing the biggest increase – up 102 units – with London suffering the biggest decline, down 59 stores.

The North-east of England showed the greatest change in fortunes, up 1.13 per cent over the period, compared with a 0.27 per cent fall in the same period last year.

A rise in the number of shoppers heading to high-street independents was also highlighted by online sales growing at their slowest rate in more than a year, according to the British Retail Consortium and KPMG.

Online shopping rose 8.2 per cent last month, compared with a three-month average of 13.8 per cent. Clothing and footwear sales also fell online for the first time on record, as the warmest and driest September ever recorded meant that shoppers shunned autumn and winter collections.

David McCorquodale, the head of retail at KPMG, said: “The warm weather melted sales of clothing and footwear online, as shoppers chose to dig out their summer wardrobe rather than investing in new winter woollies. As the weather cools and people start planning for Christmas this trend should quickly reverse.”

Several retailers have already warned that the unseasonal weather – which is expected to warm up again later this week – has hit sales, as rows of coats go unsold.

Next warned that sales were unlikely to rise by the expected 10 per cent because of the weather, while John Lewis and Ted Baker have also been affected. All eyes will be on M&S when it reveals its sales figures next month, although its house broker, Citi, has already cut its forecasts on what will be a drab set of results.