Researcher Springboard said the vacancy rate rose to 10.8% in July, from 9.8% in January 2020, reaching its highest level since January 2014 as Britain's store-based retail sector, outside of food, was hit by a lockdown to counter the pandemic.
Already weak players such as Laura Ashley, Debenhams, Oasis Warehouse, Cath Kidston and Monsoon/Accessorize have all gone into administration, with the loss of thousands of jobs, while other major retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Boots and John Lewis, are also closing stores.
Britain's store groups were already struggling with high rents and business taxes, tight margins and online competition before the pandemic took a grip on the country's economy.
Springboard said vacancies rose in six out of ten areas, but by far the greatest increase was in Greater London, where the vacancy rate rose by nearly two-thirds.
"This result brings into sharp focus the difficulties faced by large cities in attracting customers back and the impact of this on our bricks and mortar retail landscape," Springboard director Diane Wehrle said in a statement.
Springboard said that although shopper numbers improved in August for the third consecutive month, they were still down 30.8% from the same period in 2019.
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Alexander Smith)