Structural change is still required in US retail before the sector can emerge from the downturn, the World Retail Congress heard on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re still overbranded, still overstored and still overpriced,” Financo chairman Gilbert Harrison said. He added that in the past 10 years consumer spending had grown 12 per cent but that the number of stores and amount of space had grown 50 per cent in the same period.

Harrison added that retailers in the US are in a position to take advantage of better terms from landlords, as they are desperate to maintain occupancy levels. “Mall developers need retailers today more than ever. The worst thing is for a customer to come into a mall and see stores dark,” Harrison said.

But Matt Rubel, president and chief executive of Collective Brands, which owns shoe retailer Payless Shoe Source, added a note of caution, saying the key was ensuring that negotiations are conducted privately, rather than retailers lambasting their landlords in the public domain.

Harrison added that the banking environment in the US remained extremely difficult for retailers. “The banks have been very difficult. They say money is available, but it isn’t.”