How fashionable are fashion shops in our town centres?

The fashion industry is worth £26billion to the UK’s economy, which is an increase of 22% since 2009 (source British Fashion Council) but according to research by Oxford Economics the number of jobs in the industry is down by 2.4% since 4 years ago and as shops are a major employer it suggests that changes are afoot when it comes to bricks and mortar fashion outlets.

In light of the knowledge The Local Data Company (LDC) has from the data we collect across the country I am very quickly able to answer this question through analysis of change in places and the behaviour of fashion fascia. My first port of call is to look at the top 650 towns and cities up and down the country and to this end I have looked back 12 months and can report the following! During this period the number of fashion and general clothing shows has declined by 588 which is a net decline of -3.5%. This is significant as the overall decline with the Comparison Goods sector (non perishable goods) is only -1.1% for the same period. Fashion shop presence in our town centres is therefore declining three times faster than the national average. It is also significant as fashion and general clothing has (and still will be) a major footfall driver for our town centres. Nationally across the 2,700 main retail centres (towns, shopping centres and retail parks) that LDC visits we track 26,609 shops, which is 5.47% of the total stock (retail and leisure). By way of comparison convenience stores, supermarkets and food shops account for 7.36% of the stock so fashion is a key occupier on our ‘high streets’.

Now the word ‘high street’ is the most commonly misused term I come across in this industry as technically ‘high street’ is what it says it is so shopping centres, retail parks, travel hubs and standalone stores are not high streets. Analysis of the three main shopping locations (high streets, shopping centres and retail parks) shows the following net change in shops (openings minus closures) in the last 12 months;

High Streets = -2%

Shopping Centres = -4%

Retail Parks = +5%

So out of town is where the only positive growth is happening with the remainder in decline. Regionally the decline is everywhere with the range being from -4% to -2%. The North West and East of England are the worst performers.

Analysis by fascia shows who is driving this change in shop locations. The first point to note is that there are 14,857 independent fashion and general clothing shops but they have declined by 3% in the last 12 months. New Look is the largest fascia by number of shops and they have declined in town centres and shopping centres by -2% each but grown in retail parks by 4%. Next, whose sales performance is to be admired, are the next largest and have reduced their high street presence by -3%, remained stable in shopping centres and have also grown their presence on retail parks by 4%. No analysis would be complete without analysis of the Arcadia Group fascia as they have nearly 1,500 shops but have reduced their high street presence by -10% and by -7% in shopping centres but increased by 1% in retail parks.

So the numbers speak for themselves and column inches prevent analysis by town but what you can see here is that fashion shops have become less fashionable or perhaps less relevant as larger experiential store formats be they in or out of town take hold, supermarkets continue their growth as fashion brands whilst the online players (ASOS, boohoo and Net-A-Porter) continue to grow and influence the consumer. One thing that we all know is that technology will accelerate these changes and create the greatest divide between those who understand the relationship consumers have to their devices and the need of humans to see, touch and feel their clothes. Remember that 30% of online clothes deliveries are returned and if technology can reduce that to say 10% then many shops might find they have the fight of their lives on their hands!

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