That’s the verdict of a new report from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) which says 316,000 people could also lose their jobs if the decline of high street is left unchecked.

The Retail Futures 2018 report says shop numbers could fall from 281,930 today to 220,00 by 2018.

“The UK is facing a crisis. Radical changes need to be made by retailers, town centres and the government to preserve what is best in retailing.

“Retailing and retailers will either make clear strategic decisions that permit online retail to coexist with other channels or multiple retailers will disappear or be so mortally wounded that a large minority of business categories become dominated by purely online retailers.”

The CRR report identifies 153 town centres, 41% of the total, which are set to experience a rapid decline unless action is taken.

“Retail Futures 2018 recommends that a pump-priming fund of £320 million is required to start redeveloping these problem town centres to turn failing and empty shops into other facilities for which there may be a local demand.”

The report says the online share of UK sales will increase from 12.7% in 2012, already the highest online share of retail in the world, to 21.5% in 2018.

This shift of consumer activity to the internet means the high street share of spend has fallen from 50% in 2000 to a predicted 40.2% in 2014.

It also means retail chains with strong websites now need 70 high street stores to create a national presence, says the CRR, compared with 250 in the mid-2000s.

As a result vacancy rates have increased from 5.4% in December 2008 to 14.1% in March 2013, a 161% rise. Without intervention the CRR says it will rise to 20% and more over the next five years,

While local neighborhood stores are likely to be hardest hit, with a predicted decline of 26.2%, the CRR reckons that 164 major or medium-sized companies will go into administration over the five-year period.

Major retailers like Tesco, Asda and B&Q are also not immune, it says, noting the reduction in the number of large stores being opened and plans to sub-divide others and lease space to other retailers.

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