There is a vast array of retail businesses across the UK, ranging from the smaller one-store retailers to the mighty multi-store giants. Trying to pinpoint exactly how many of each is a tricky task – the many facets of the retail industry are continually changing, and each town and city frequently sees the coming and going of various businesses.
What is an independent retailer?
Firstly, we need to ask, “What is an independent retailer?”
In the UK, the term ‘independent retailer’ is rather vague. It covers larger companies – such as Wilkinsons, Ann Summers and Specsavers – and smaller ones, which are owner-operated more likely to have very few retail outlets.
In this post, I’ll be looking at the latter – the SMEs in the UK who have the potential to develop into larger independents or multiple retailers.
How many Independent retailers are therein the UK?
Unfortunately, no authority seems to be able to give a definitive answer to how many independent retailers there are. In fact, there isn’t even an accurate number of SMEs in the UK – the industry is changing so quickly that there is never a correct answer.
Some organisations can give a rough idea though.
The British Chambers of Commerce said there were 273,000 retail businesses and 137,000 wholesalers in total in 2012. The British Retail Consortium claims that there are 189,280 retailers running 287,100 outlets.
Plenty of other authorities have tried to place the number – Independents Day, Local Data Company, FSB…the list goes on.
The British Independent Retailers Association states there are more than 220,000 independent retailers across the nation, around 7,000 of which are its members. It also says that last year, 15,908 independent retailers opened and 15,182 closed.
That last statistic quite easily explains the confusion. Many claim that more than 300 shops close on our high streets every week, and judging by bira’s data, more than that open in the same period!
Rate of retail openings and retail closures
As well as the huge quantity of shops opening and closing, it’s worth remembering that sole traders aren’t listed at Companies House and so probably aren’t included in statistics.
Most of all, it appears that statistics fail to capture the rise of online shopping. There are perhaps up to one million online sellers now – we know for sure online sales now account for more than 10% of total sales in the UK.
Most online sellers could very well be independent retailers but the scope of their businesses may lead them to run differently to “normal” shops – different opening hours, extra income.
I personally think that trying to define the exact number of independent retailers is a bit of a minefield – but at least the numbers are growing. That’s one thing that everybody agrees on!
Where can I find independent retailers?
Despite the plethora of information out there, here at the Support for Independent Retail campaign, we’ve been collecting information on an online directory to establish the number of independent retailers.
Independent Shops allows customers to find independent shops in a certain area, while the retailers themselves can add their details and become part of the growing database.
We’re even working on improving the directory in the coming months to provide more search categories and terms. Take a look at http://www.independentshops.co.uk/ to find out more…!