WHEN Marks and Spencer closes the 30 stores it recently announced are due to go, the casualties will be just a tiny fraction of the 100,000 stores across the UK that close every year, many of them with little fanfare, most to be replaced by other shops. It is also part of a pattern of change we can expect for many years to come. For, according to Matthew Hopkinson director of retail analyst Local Data Company (LDC), we simply have “too many stores.”

LDC are the organisers behind the 4th Scottish Retail and Leisure Summit, set to take place on December 13, and Hopkinson recently compiled a list of the 35 Marks and Spencer stores most likely to close – which included Aberdeen, Dundee and Ayr in Scotland. But the principles he used could be applied to many stores in other chains.

“It’s about this whole million dollar question of how many stores should you have?” he says. And his answer is less. “We continue to build more and more shops,” he says. “But we’ve not really demolished very many or changed them. And while the population has increased, it’s not increased that much. I know we’re all overweight and we eat too much and get more clothes, but not that much.”

There has been a shift of retailers from town centres to shopping centres and then to retail parks and on to “mega retail parks” and now, he says, to mega shopping centres which combine stores with destination food. “What we do know is that it can’t go on as it is now because the profitability of these retailers is under severe pressure.”

Particularly under pressure are clothes retailers, most of whom have seen drops in sales in this year. “Clothing has seen more blood on the carpet than anywhere else,” he says. This, he believes, is going to continue, partly because currently “it’s all about fast fashion” – clothing produced rapidly to reflect the latest catwalk trends, often sold at low prices, and frequently discarded after a few wears, by companies like Primark, Zara and H&M.

Hopkinson makes a comparison between M&S and Primark, which he observes has much fewer, but bigger stores. “But that’s not,” he says, “the heritage of M&S. They were very like Woolworths, and had an M&S in every town and their absolute loyal customer who went there.”

That kind of loyalty, he observes, is disappearing. “There are very few people who are seriously loyal to one sort of shop. Even the John Lewis shopper who used to be fiercely loyal, isn’t anymore because there is so much you can get so quickly online or offline."

Currently there is nearly a 13% shop vacancy rate in Scotland. Edinburgh suffered a net loss of 46 chain retailers, 5% of its shops, last year, partly due to the redevelopment of the St James centre. Glasgow lost 18. Stirling lost ten. All of this reflects a wider process.

Among those who agree that we are currently “over-stored” is Professor Leigh Sparks of Stirling University. “Online sales,” he says, “are growing, particularly in clothing and fashion and you would expect that market to continue. Therefore we are likely to see further chains reducing the number of stores that they need.”

Already, he observes, “a range of businesses have been slowly reducing their store count, often quite quietly, often when leases go. But there are some other businesses that have been expanding quietly as well.”

“Large chunks of the Scottish retail sector,” he says, “have been vacant for three years. Are those ever going to come back, given the rise in the internet and the changes in consumer behaviour? I doubt it.”

Does this mean we are likely to see the disappearance of another major chain, as we did with BHS? Matthew Hopkinson considers it unlikely. “We’re not losing whole chains like BHS or Woolworths,” he says. What we are likely to see, he explains, is that when leases come up for review, stores will use this as an opportunity to close outlets or relocate.

There has already been an exodus from the high street, with clothes shops and electrical retailers leaving to go to larger units with cheaper price per square foot. One comparison frequently made is between M&S and the relatively successful story of Next: the former has a ratio of many high street shops to fewer retail park stores, whereas the latter has the opposite: far more outlets in retail parks.

This may leave the town centres emptied out, but all is not doom and gloom. Professor Leigh Sparks, believes it’s an opportunity for evolution. “I think in some places you will see quite a nice central core to a high street that does reduce a bit in size and space but actually fits that local market quite well. But there are other places that are trying to hang on to a vision of a town centre that is too big.”