The figures revealed that the independent sector saw a decrease of -1,483 shops (-0.49%) in 2017, compared to +795 (+0.28%) in 2016.
In 2017 a total of 67,503 independents either opened (33,010) or closed (34,493), +4.4% up on 2016, when 64,661 opened (32,728) or closed (31,933). However, this reveals that while numbers are down and closures are high, independent retailers are still opening stores.
Independent convenience stores – including bakers, butchers, food shops and supermarkets – saw a net decrease of -266 units (-0.88%) in 2017 compared to an increase of +314 units (+1.13%) in 2016.
Key growth sectors have been tobacconists/e-cigarette shops and cafes, according to the research. While independent sectors in decline include newsagents.
The West Midlands showed the greatest increase of independents at +230 units (+1.01%) in 2017. The region also saw the greatest increase of independents in 2016 at +280 units (+1.43%).
Yorkshire and the Humber and Greater London showed the greatest decline of independents at -460 units (-1.58%) and -374 units (0.54%), respectively.
Chris Fowler, relationship manager at the Local Data Company, said: “The independent sector is typically more agile than the multiples and these smaller businesses are adapting to rapidly changing market conditions as consumers have less attachment to products and expect ever greater convenience from services.
“The need for customisation and providing a personal service will continue to fuel the openings of independents on our high streets, but the threat of closure remains high due to the marginal nature of some businesses. Yet there is evidence in the historic LDC data to suggest that once a new independent retailer has survived the first three years, they are more resilient and are actually more likely to survive than the multiples in our large towns. So if more independents can be supported in their early years by creative landlords and other stakeholders, our towns and cities stand a greater chance of adapting to the ongoing retail revolution we are witnessing.”
Alan Hawkins, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association (bira), added: “The figures come as no surprise, and the net loss of 1,483 independents reflects the more attention-grabbing headlines covering multiples that have dominated the news for the last few months.
“Continued concern following the last rates review, uncertainty over Brexit, changing shopping habits, a harsh winter and real incomes falling can all be used to explain these figures. With this sector being faced with a false cost base against their online competitors we shouldn’t be surprised at these inevitable consequences. With 65% of all outlets being independents, is society really braced for the hole a decline in numbers will bring?”