Independent Market Remains Resilient In 2020 Due To Government Support Schemes

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic causing mass closures across the GB retail and leisure landscape, there were still 31,405 openings of independent units in 2020 according to a new report released today by retail data consultancy, Local Data Company.

The opening of independent takeaways, bars and restaurants helped the independent retail and leisure market remain resilient in 2020 despite the covid-19 pandemic causing mass closures across the landscape. These included 232 takeaways, 93 bars, 91 pizza takeaways and 87 restaurants as demand for food skyrocketed.

The total openings were just outweighed by 32,847 closures and resulted in the independent market shrinking by 0.4% (1,442 units). However, this loss was minimal compared with the chain market, which declined by 4.5%, equating to a loss of 9,877 units. The loss in independent units in 2020 was slightly lower than the previous year, with a net change of minus 1,521 units (0.5%) in 2019. Both independent openings and closures decreased by 11% in 2020, as extended periods of lockdown suppressed market activity.

LDC said the decrease in closures indicates government support schemes designed to stem the flow of retail and leisure closures during the pandemic were more effective for the independent sector than chains. It added localisation has been a key trend throughout the pandemic because consumers have been confined to their local area and, therefore, chosen to support independent businesses due to an increased sense of community.

However, analysis on how many independent stores that opened in 2018 were still operational on 1 March 2021 demonstrates how fragile this market can be, with just 64% of those businesses still open. Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at LDC, said: “Commentary from Lucy Stainton, Head of Retail and Strategic Partnerships at the Local Data Company:

“Whilst the latest statistics do show that structural decline across the retail and leisure market picked up pace in 2020, it is clear that we are not yet seeing the full impact of the pandemic. The number of permanent closures recorded was lower than the previous year as a result of government interventions, yet a significant number of dormant businesses are still ‘temporarily closed’ following the first lockdown. It remains to be seen if these will re-open at all once restrictions are lifted.

The volume of activity we are seeing across the independent sector could be cause for some optimism however, as an increase in available retail units and more localised shopping habits create opportunities for those looking to open a business. This could mark a first step towards more diverse and resilient high streets across the country.”