Data released today by the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) and the Local Data Company (LDC) shows that independent retailers opened significantly more shops in H1 2018 than in the same period last year.

However, a record number of stores were closed over the same period. This resulted in a total decline of 1554 independent shops (-0.5%) - a significant reversal from the increase of 762 shops (+0.27%) seen in H1 2017.

The net loss of 695 units located on high streets alone was the main driver of this decline. Independent units categorised as Service Retail (including retailers such as barbers, hairdressers and dry cleaners) was the only category to see growth, with a net increase of 104 units in H1 2018. 

Chain retailers (brands with more than four stores) have also remained in decline, with a net loss of 2848 shops (-1.36%) in H1 2018 across Great Britain, compared to a loss of 659 shops (-0.33%) in H1 2017. 

Independents still account for 65% of all retail and leisure units in Great Britain, the same as in H1 2017. 

The West Midlands saw the greatest increase in independent openings, while Yorkshire & the Humber and Greater London saw the greatest declines.

According to the report, the number of independent furniture retailers operating decreased by -1.63% during the period.

Wider analysis of location types shows that high streets saw a dramatic decline of 695 units in H1 2018, representing a -0.41% net decrease. Shopping centres saw a similar pattern, with a decline of -1.55%. Retail parks were the only location type to see growth in units, of +1.48% (versus +3.41% in H1 2017) – but this location type only accounts for 0.2% of the nation's independents.

Lucy Stainton, senior relationship manager of the LDC, comments: “There is no doubt 2018 has already shown itself to be a particularly transformative year for the UK retail market. The shake-up across the physical landscape is impacting chains and independents alike. Businesses in all corners of the industry are having to look very closely at their current model and assess its relevance in an era of unprecedented consumer change.

"It is not all bad news for independent businesses though, if we look to the leisure sector, which has fallen into sharp decline for the first time in the first half of 2018, this has been driven entirely by a fall in chain outlets. Independents on the other hand have been able to take advantage of the consumer’s increased search for uniqueness.” 

bira CEO Andrew Goodacre adds: “This report perfectly illustrates the problems for independent retail businesses. Despite more businesses opening, we have seen more closing resulting in a net loss from the high street. bira have been saying for a long time that independent retailers need support from local and national governments. The recent budget announcements regarding a rates reduction and the setting up of a high street fund are very welcome and we hope it is not too late to provide a lifeline to these important businesses.”