The UK high street’s winners – and the losers

It has been a troubling few years for the British retail sector – some chains have survived, others have thrived but some of the oldest and most familiar have fallen by the wayside


  • Noella Pio Kivlehan

30 March 2021

Illustration: Raymond Biesinger


Primark – Founded in Dublin in 1969, Primark is lauded for its success in fast fashion, despite never having an online retail presence. Today it has 370 stores in 12 countries.

Next – Its strong online offer has managed to support a successful bricks-and-mortar business, losing only nine stores out of more than 500 between 2019-20.

Sports Direct – Known for adapting to both online and bricks-and-mortar, Sports Direct is a core brand that serves a large sector of the sports market. It is now considered a major player in the premium fashion market as well with profits increasing each year since 2010, hitting £116 million in 2020.

JD Sports – reports that in 2020, the chain reached a value of £6.11bn, seven times higher than in 2011. This rampant revenue growth also helped increase its share in UK apparel market at more than a double rate.  

John Lewis Partnership: John Lewis/Waitrose – Despite being hit by the on-going pandemic, JPL still retains a place in UK consumers’ hearts. In October, the company announced the expansion of digital, virtual and delivery services that will form a key part of John Lewis’s new five-year plan.

Supermarket successes – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s, Iceland, Lidl, Aldi, M&S Food. According to, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have the largest share of the market up to December 2020.

Other successes – Boots, Superdrug, Poundland, B&M, The Range, Greggs


Rumblelows – Once a leading UK electrical retailer among the ranks of Currys and Dixons, Rumbelows’ eventual demise came in 1995.

Freeman Hardy Willis – Ex-footwear giant Freeman, Hardy & Willis had seen more than 100 years’ trading before ceasing business in 1999.

C&A – The German chain owned by the Dutch Brenninkmeyer family closed its 113 stores in the UK in 2000. It had been a British high street stalwart for 75 years.

Tandy – Electronics retailer Tandy left the UK’s high streets in 2001, shortly after being bought by Carphone Warehouse. It still sells products online at

The Gadget Shop – After fighting for survival against online retailers, the Gadget Shop was bought by the owners of the toyshop chain, The Entertainer, in 2005, who closed all its shops and ran it online.

Dixons – Electrical chain Dixons, founded in 1937, closed in 2006, re-branding as Currys digital.

Woolworths – The 130-year-old chain went with the loss of 807 stores and 27,000 jobs in December 2008. It was dubbed “the first domino of physical retail Armageddon.”

Bhs – In 2016 the department store closed 163 stores after operating for 88 years.

Thomas Cook – The travel chain announced in March 2019 the closure of 21 branches.

Mothercare – First opened in 1961, the chain permanently closed the doors on its 79 stores in November 2019.

Debenhams – Another UK department store stalwart that went bust in April 2020, with the closure of 39 stores.

Peacocks and Jaeger Part of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) Group which fell into administration in November 2020.

Bonmarché – The women's clothing chain fell into administration in December 2020, for the second time in just over a year, putting more than 1,500 jobs at risk.

Arcadia brands  December 2020 was a dark month for the retail sector with the demise of Arcadia, which owned 444 sites in the UK. Household names to disappear from the high street and shopping centres were Top Shop; Top Man; Burton; Miss Selfridge; Outfit: Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Evans. In December, Evans was bought by Australian-listed City Chic Collective. Then on-line retailer Boohoo went on a spending spree, snapping up DP, Wallis, and Burton brands for £25.2 million - but for online retail only.

Source: Noella Pio Kivlehan / Modus /


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