MORE than five stores closed for good every week last year in leading shopping areas in Scotland such as Glasgow and Edinburgh although the pace of retrenchment slowed research has found.

A study for accountancy giant PwC has underlined the scale of the damage inflicted on the country’s high streets in recent years with the rise of internet shopping leaving many retailers fighting for survival.

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The study found the number of stores in eight leading centres stretching from Aberdeen to Ayr had fallen by 500 in the last five years, net of openings.

Experts at PwC warned that with uncertainty about Brexit weighing on consumer spending the tide of closures would continue to sweep across the country.

“We have already seen casualties in 2019 and we fully expect to see more, with retail companies facing an uphill battle to survive, never mind thrive,” said Mark Addley, head of business recovery for the accountancy giant in Scotland

The findings highlight the toll taken on sectors such as fashion retailing, which has been particularly severe in Scotland.

They also provide graphic evidence of the impact the turmoil in the retail sector is having on prominent towns and cities in Scotland. More than 150 stores closed in total in Glasgow and Edinburgh last year alone.

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With smaller places also under the cosh, PwC said the gaps left by the retreat of retailers should spark a national debate about the future of town centres.

“Decisions will need made on what exactly a high street is for in 2019 with local authorities and landlords having to consider repurposing sites,” said Mr Addley.

The report by the Local Data Company for PwC found the closure rate in Scotland in 2018 slowed compared with 2017 while the country fared better than other areas of Great Britain.However, those findings are unlikely to provide much consolation for retail sector watchers in the country given the grim tone of the report.

The study found the 265 shop closures across the eight towns and cities monitored in Scotland last year exceeded the 146 openings by 119.

The net closure rate fell to 3.65% from 4.48% in 2017.

PwC said Scotland was the only one of 11 nations and regions monitored in Great Britain to see a drop in net closures on that basis in 2018.

The sectors worst hit in Scotland included fashion retailing, with 12 closures net of openings. “Fashion was hit particularly hard in Scotland,” said PwC. The number of fashion stores fell by 6.5%, to 173, net of openings.

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All eight of the Scottish areas analysed had fewer shops at the end of 2018 than at the start of the year. They included Dundee, Ayr, Perth, Falkirk and Paisley.

The number of stores in Glasgow fell by 32 to 875, following 89 closures and 57 openings.

Edinburgh store numbers also shrank by 32, to 1,037. Store numbers in Aberdeen fell by 27 to 450.

Mr Addley said retailers had to focus on ensuring they had the right proposition, and the investment needed to deliver it.

The study found some sectors had performed well. The number of booksellers in Scotland rosse by 8% to 40 from 37.

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PwC said the roll out of gyms has led the growth categories in Great Britain as high streets begin to pivot away from retail. “Other growth categories are dominated by entertainment and indulgence, with bookshops, ice cream parlours and cake shops all in the top five,” it said.

The number of stores in Great Britain fell by 3.6% in 2018 with the loss of a record 2,481 stores net of openings from the top 500 high streets.

Businesses most affected by the shift to online included fashion and electrical retail.