A new report reveals the contradictory dynamics of the retail landscape in Wales over the past year.
Highlights from the second annual report on Wales conducted by the Local Data Company LDC) and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) include:
*The number of empty shops fell in 2016, as it has for the past three years – although the rate of improvement is slowing.
*Shop vacancy in town centres has improved faster in Wales than in England or Scotland over the same period – yet remains higher in Wales.
*Shopping centres have fewer empty shops than either English or Scottish centres. Part of the reason for this is that more town centre shops are vacant.
*Concerted efforts at urban regeneration can be successful, as demonstrated by projects such as Friars Walk shopping centre in Newport.
But increased vacancy rates in areas surrounding the new scheme can indicate that improvement in one place can cause problems elsewhere, possibly when anchor stores move from traditional locations into new schemes.
*The proportion of independent shops is rising, contrary to popular belief, as this sector continues to demonstrate the value of its vitality to towns.
But the average percentage of independent shops in towns in Wales remains below that of Great Britain as a whole.
*Shops that sell non-food products are being replaced by food, drink, entertainment and service outlets in Wales, as in both Scotland and England.
*Charity shops, and Booze, Money & Gambling (BMG) outlets, are not taking over locations in Wales, as seen in the past – contrary to common perceptions.
*Persistent vacancy among shops in Wales is not improving, with a stubborn rump remaining empty for three years or more – a clear indicator of oversupply.
Planners need to consider changes of use more systematically and need to have a clear understanding of what a town can realistically sustain in the future, based on the ever-changing and increasingly demanding consumer.
*Stability still reigns in many town centres which remain a key destination for their communities, especially with the rise of convenience shopping and an ageing population who value the interaction and engagement that local shops offer.
This may not hold for ever though, as Millennials (adults born between 1980 and the end of 1994) prefer to shop on their mobile phones – and this demographic is rising in number and economic significance.
LDC director Matthew Hopkinson commented: “Change in some towns is being helped by the reduction in the stock of redundant shops. This is no bad thing, when shopping centres and retail parks are increasingly the key destinations for much consumer spend. “
He added: “The prospect for a town is clearly determined by the state of the local economy, and the proximity of competing centres, as people now travel further to destination locations; mundane shopping can be done from the comfort of your sofa via the internet.”
Dr Scott Orford of WISERD, added: “There continues to be a clear relationship between local levels of deprivation and retail vacancy rates.
“In some towns, nearly two-fifths of vacant premises have been empty for more than three years. New initiatives are needed in these places to bring these premises back into use.”
He continued: “Compared with last year, there has been an increase in independent retailers in some towns, with a noticeable rise in the more rural areas of Wales.
“Such a development is encouraging, given the trend of some of the big retailers reducing their shop numbers – and this may reflect consumers wanting something different on the high street from what they can get online.”
LDC visits over 2,700 towns and cities, retail parks and shopping centres. Each premises is visited and its occupancy status recorded as occupied, vacant or demolished. Vacant units are those units which did not possess a trading business at that location on the day visited.