The high streets of the UK have endured their quietest December since 1998, according to new data.

The Retail Traffic Index by Ipsos Retail Performance indicates that retail footfall was its lowest December level since the year the index was first recorded.

The latest index reveals that even the third week of December leading up to Christmas Day and including “Super Saturday” on Christmas Eve – which was regarded as the busiest shopping week of the year – saw a 1.7 per cent dip in high street footfall compared to the same week in 2015, which had one day less of trading.

For the whole month of December, high street footfall was down 9.3 per cent year-on-year, the widest gap since 2006 according to the index.

Meanwhile, the south west of England and Wales suffered the biggest high street footfall drop of all the regions, with a year-on-year decline of 14.4 per cent.

Overall, the fourth quarter of last year ended with 6.6 per cent fewer shoppers than the same period in 2015.

“We had projected better performance in the run up to Christmas, as the 6.4 per cent year-on-year decline in November had been thought to be a consequence of Black Friday disrupting consumers’ traditional shopping habits,” Ipsos director of retail intelligence Dr Tim Denison said.

“However, the 9.3 per cent deficit in December in fact points towards a more substantial structural shift that favours online shopping and a softening in overall consumer demand.”

He added: “Demand amongst consumers had expected to stay resilient as we head into 2017. However, if the weakening of store footfall over November and December is symptomatic of a wider lethargy amongst UK shoppers, retailers could face a much stiffer challenge over the coming months.

“We were already anticipating that cost and margin would cause problems this year, so if demand crumbles away then all three key factors of retail health will be working against the retailers in 2017.”

The Retail Traffic Index is based on the number of individual shoppers entering more than 4000 non-food retail stores across the UK.

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