January shopper numbers dropped to their lowest level in three years, as shoppers were put off by the snow and freezing conditions which plagued the country, data revealed Monday.
The number of people braving the shops last month fell 3.3% compared to January 2012, the largest since January 2010, according to research carried out by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard monitor.
The situation was even worse in out-of-town locations, which posted a 7.2% decline, and shopping centres, which registered a 5.2% drop.
More positively, the data also revealed that the national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 10.9% in January 2013, down from 11.3% in October 2012.
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "This steep drop in footfall is obviously a cause for concern but, as our sales figures showed last week, fewer shoppers on the streets doesn't seem to have dented sales growth in January. The mid-month snow took its toll on numbers of people out braving the elements, especially when making journeys to out-of-town retail parks, but it seems that many of us stayed one step ahead of the big chill and bought more on fewer shopping trips.
"It's good news that the vacancy rate is slightly down on October 2012's record high. However, the UK average masks widespread variations, with Wales recording a particularly high rate compared with the previous quarter.
"If the government wants to support reducing the vacancy rate further, it could really help by freezing business rates in April. The rising cost of doing business is a looming threat to the future health of retailers and high streets."
Bad news for Wales
The number of vacant High Street shops in Wales climbed to 17% in January, and was given the blame for the country's 10% decline in shopper footfall last month.
This was despite the Welsh government's efforts to boost retail conditions in a bid to "allow the private sector to grow".
More needs to be done to "bring life back to our town centres", was the message put forward by the Welsh Federation of Small Business.
Comments from Springboard Research Director
Diane Wehrle said: "The national vacancy rate now stands at 10.9%, which is a slight reduction from 11.3% in October. However, the key finding here is that vacancies in particular regions have increased significantly over the past three months, e.g. an increase from 15.1% to 17.0% in Wales which may be a reflection of the impact of the recent closure of key high street names.
"The premise that high vacancy rates tend to perpetuate low footfall appears to hold true with a decline in footfall of -10.1% in Wales alongside an increase in a vacancy rate of 1.9% from October compared with an increase in footfall in the West Midlands of 5.3 percentage points alongside a vacancy rate that has fallen over the last three months by 0.7%."