UBS sees another 80,000 U.S. stores closing by 2026

April 5, 2021, 7:07 PM UTC

Retail’s real estate reckoning is far from over.

Even though the past few years have brought countless announcements of store closings, U.S. retailers should brace for much more to come. In a research note published on Monday, UBS forecast that some 80,000 retail stores, or roughly 9% of the current total, will shut their doors permanently by 2026.

The forecast is based on the assumption that e-commerce as a percentage of total retail sales jumps to 27%—up from 18% now, which is already several percentage points higher than had been expected by this time.

“An enduring legacy of the pandemic is that online penetration rose sharply,” retail equity analyst Michael Lasser writes in the 94-page research note to clients. “We expect that it will continue to increase, which will drive further rationalization of retail stores.”

Financial results from some major retailers support Lasser’s assertion. Nordstrom got 54% of its sales online in the holiday quarter, while Macy’s generated 44% that way. Gap Inc. said e-commerce represented nearly half its business in its most recent fiscal year. Speaking of Gap, the company took advantage of the COVID-19 turmoil to close many stores in its namesake chain, betting that at least half of the brand’s business will soon move online for good.

UBS predicted that apparel retailers would account for the biggest chunk of store closings, with 21,000 of the total, much of that happening in indoor shopping malls. (Retailers in strip malls have been largely shielded from the recent carnage.)

Next are consumer electronics with 8,000 likely-to-close locations, and home furnishings with 7,000. Both those categories are growing overall but seeing a faster proportion of their sales go online than retail in general. Best Buy, a big winner during the pandemic, recently announced it would shrink some of the sales floors at its stores so that more space could be used for servicing e-commerce orders.

General merchandise big-box retailers like Target and Walmart are not closing stores, in part because they have overhauled their physical locations to enable filling online orders and letting shoppers retrieve orders there.

While 2019 was the high-water mark for U.S. closings, with 9,832 during a record year for retail bankruptcies, they have continued since then. After 8,741 closings last year, some 3,169 have shuttered so far in 2021. But in a sign of retail’s reinvention, several thousand new locations have opened. Chains that have added stores include dollar stores and some brands that are fixtures in strip malls, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ulta Beauty.