LONDON: More than 2,600 UK high street shops closed in the first six months of this year, according to a new report which reveals how the country's retail experience is changing thanks to online shopping and shifting spending preferences.

The study from consulting firm PwC and the Local Data Company also indicated that the number of shop openings had slowed so that the net figure of 503 fewer shops was the biggest loss in four years.

The presence of banks and other financial institutions on local high streets continues to decline as people shift towards online banking: the category registered a net change of -82.

But men's clothes shops and women's clothes shops were most affected, with a net balance of -95 between the number of openings and closures. Not far behind was the associated category of fashion shops, selling accessories and costume jewellery, with a net balance of -87.

There are two main reasons for this decline, the Financial Times reported, one being the lack of any major fashion trends to drive the market, the other being the fact that millennial consumers prefer to spend their money on experiences like holidays and eating out.

That assessment is backed by the pattern of net openings reported by PwC, with takeaway food shops (+19), American restaurants (+15) and coffee shops (+14) featuring prominently among the main risers.

Tobacconists (+28), however, topped the list, as the vaping habit gains ground – e-cigarette sales in the UK are forecast to rise 43% in 2016 to reach $1.7bn.

Estate agents (+26), jewellers (+24) and health clubs (+14) also opened more outlets than they closed.

Retail analyst Richard Hyman argued that there are too many shops, pointing out that almost two thirds of retailers across the country were holding sales last week as they tried to shift unsold stock.

"This is the toughest retail market we have ever seen by some distance," he told the Guardian. "But we have seen nothing yet; next year will be worse."

Data sourced from Financial Times, Guardian; additional content by Warc staff