Shop closures of large retailers in Wales far outweighed all new chain store openings in the first half of 2019, research has indicated.
There was a net loss of 37 chain shops in the 11 towns surveyed, suggesting Wales was proportionally the worst-affected part of the UK.
Across the UK, fashion retailers saw the biggest declines, followed by restaurants, estate agents and pubs.
However, there were more openings of takeaways and sport and health clubs.
Researchers studied town centres deemed to be in Great Britain’s top 500 high streets, including Abergavenny, Barry, Newport, Swansea, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Merthyr Tydfil, Neath, Pontypridd, Bridgend and Cwmbran.
Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan was the only town surveyed in Wales not to see a decline.
Stuart Burnell, who runs a refill shop there, said different types of shops could attract shoppers back.
The analysis by Local Data Company and PwC showed the shortfall between chains opening and closing was at the highest level since the analysis began in 2014.
Barry town centre saw one chain shop closing and one opening in the first half of this year. Fifty-five per cent of its shops are independent, meaning the chain retailers make up a significant proportion of the occupants.
Rachael Williams, who is involved with the Holton Road Traders’ Association, said the departure of chains such as Dorothy Perkins, Burton and New Look had affected footfall and created a negative perception of the area.
“You’ve either got to make the units bigger to attract the bigger shops, or you’ve got to make the rates lower to attract the independents,” she added.
Her husband Ceri Williams, who co-owns Marshalls Butchers on the main street Holton Road, said a reduction in chain shops was “another nail in the coffin” for the high street.
In July, locals Stuart Burnell and his fiancée opened the Awesome Wales zero waste refill shop, next to Marshalls, and said they had been well-supported by residents.
“It’s vitally important we have different types of shop that will bring people back into the town centre,” he said.
His neighbour Mr Williams added: “Getting people in the town is the biggest challenge because it’s so hard to draw people in, but the [refill] shop next door, he has brought a lot of people in, and nice people who care about the environment and we’re getting a bit of spin off from that.”
How independent are Welsh high streets?
The analysis looked at the top 500 high streets with the largest number of chain stores, which is why there were no towns in north Wales on the list.
Ben Cottam, from the Federation of Small Businesses Wales, described the analysis as “sobering”.
“We now see that some of the pressures of consumer behaviour, business rates burdens and other issues are hitting even the biggest names,” he added.