NEW research has shown a drop in the number of stores in Scotland of 652 last year.

Accountants PwC said pre-pandemic trends continued in 2020 with closures outnumbering openings, while consumers switched to retail parks from the high street.

More than 1,200 chain stores closed in Scotland last year, with 612 openings, continuing a path that has developed across high streets in recent years, leading to 14 per cent fewer stores compared to 2016 as shoppers migrate to online shopping.

The 1,264 closures – which do not include stores temporarily closed because of lockdown restrictions – is in line with the 1,288 closures in 2019, according to the latest PwC research compiled by the Local Data Company.

PwC said that when openings are taken into account the net change in store numbers is a 4.1% drop against a 4.5% reduction across Great Britain, where there were 17,532 closures compared to 7,655 openings.

Even discounting the likely final impact of the pandemic, 2020 is the worst performance in recent years, with the net closures higher than in any of the five previous years.

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The long-term shift is felt most sharply in the high street, with 883 closures over the period leading to a net loss of 432 stores. In percentage terms this is a net loss of 3.5%.

Shopping centres in Scotland felt the biggest impact in percentage terms with 279 closures and 103 openings leading to a 7.4% reduction in stores. Retail parks proved to be the most resilient sector with 102 closures, compared to 58 openings, giving a net reduction of 3.2%, or 44 stores.

Footfall was already holding up better in retail parks before the pandemic partly because of investment in leisure, and some retail parks have benefitted by being anchored by essential retailers that have remained open.

Jason Higgs, head of retail for PwC Scotland said: “The bricks and mortar of Scotland’s retail sector continues to be influenced by changing consumer habits, ahead of all else.

“This means we continue to see far more stores being closed than being opened.

"Though this year, we are for the first time beginning to see a discernible gap between city centres and shopping centres, which are faltering, and retail parks, which are performing more resiliently with a mix of big-name brands in convenient locations surrounded by ample free parking.

"Hanging above our data for this year however, is Covid-19. Worryingly, the real impact of the pandemic is yet to be felt as some stores ‘temporarily closed’ during lockdowns, but considered as open in the research, are unlikely to ever welcome customers again.”