In January the number of shoppers in the UK fell at the steepest rate since the month of the EU referendum.
Footfall fell 1.3 per cent year-on-year in January, according to data from Springboard and the British Retail Consortium. This was the sharpest drop-off in customer numbers since a 2.8 per cent drop in June last year.
On the high street, footfall fell 0.8 per cent. The news comes after data from accountancy firm BDO showed that high street stores suffered their worst January sales for four years; like-for-like sales fell by 0.1 per cent. In shopping centres, footfall fell for the twelfth month in a row.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: "At a time when retail is being re-imagined as customers seek more engaging experiences in our high streets, town centres and retail parks, the incentive for retailers to innovate and invest in physical space is being curtailed by the upward only trajectory of business rates."
Vacancy rates did improve, however, down to 9.4 per cent from a vacancy rate of 9.5 per cent in October.
"This can partly be explained by the churn of occupancy from retail to hospitality, a feature of the last year," said Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard. "But it is also due to the fact that the vacancy rate reflects footfall and sales, and so lags behind these as a performance indicator."
Dickinson said the strongest improvements in vacancy rates was seen in London, where rates fell from 9.5 per cent to 8.4 per cent.
"However, in some parts of the country the number of empty shops remains worryingly high and act merely as a blot on landscape of local communities," Dickinson said.