Outlets in retail parks remained the most resilient type of store in Scotland last year with the resurgence of hospitality leading the way, further underscoring the need "to revitalise or reposition" town and city centre high streets.

Latest figures from accountancy group PwC and The Local Data Company (LDC) show that a total of 1,069 stores in Scotland closed during 2023, while 732 were opened. The resulting net loss of 337 outlets represents a decline of 2.1%, an increase of roughly a third on the decline of 1.4% in 2022.

The bi-annual research tracks 206,000 outlets in more than 3,500 locations to gain a picture of the changing landscape of high streets, retail parks, shopping centres and stand alone outlets. This phase of the analysis focused on multiples and chains operating five or more outlets, with LDC to publish figures on independent retailers in March.

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“Our research shows that, despite the continuing annual reduction of stores across Scotland, there is a willingness from business to invest in physical outlets, with two new stores opening per day for every three closed throughout 2023," PwC Scotland partner Ross Marshall said.

“It demonstrates the continuing evolution of our high streets, retail parks and shopping centres with a real shift towards out-of-town and retail park locations and a resurgence in the hospitality sector - demonstrating that ‘café culture’ is going nowhere.

"Across Scotland in the last few months alone, a variety of new eateries and bars have opened their doors, and entrepreneurs are making the most of the franchise model to bring big names to key Scottish locations."

Although Scotland’s closure rate accelerated between 2022 and 2023, the latest decline remains lower than the period between 2017 and 2021 when closures peaked at a rate of 4.1% during Covid lockdowns. It is also marginally lower than the average of decline of 2.3% across the UK.

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Retail parks remain the most resilient outlet type with a 0.3% increase in the number of outlets across the UK. Stand alone stores, those in shopping centres, and and those located on high streets all experienced net closers of 2.0%, 2.5% and 3.0% respectively. 

Despite the overall decline the hospitality sector has seen a notable rebound, leading to a surge in new store openings. PwC and LDC’s data shows that five of the top seven new opening categories were in the hospitality sector, with takeaways, food-to-go, cafés, coffee shops and restaurants flourishing in 2023.

“This willingness to invest in bricks and mortar for shoppers is encouraging - especially given that PwC research shows the majority of those aged 35 and under prefer in-person experiences, and that consumers generally believe that stores beat online when it comes to customer service and after-sales service," Mr Marshall added.

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The report says that while the news is positive for chain operators, independents have fared much worse due to higher costs, reduced government assistance, and the need to repay Covid loans.

"And this news should be tempered by the fact that this success is mostly for retail parks or out-of-town locations, areas that outperformed well before the pandemic," the report concludes. "That creates a pressing need for landlords, local governments, operators and other stakeholders to understand why consumers prefer retail parks and drive-thrus, and work together to revitalise or reposition high streets and other locations."