Britain's battered retail sector saw a fall in the number of shoppers last month despite a last-minute surge in the week before Christmas, figures have revealed.
Shopper numbers dropped by 1.2% across the UK compared with December 2011 as consumers continued to rein in their spending, according to the latest British Retail Consortium (BRC)/Springboard footfall monitor.
The fall came in spite of a 7.5% leap in the number of shoppers hitting stores in the week before Christmas, with bargain-hunters leaving their festive shopping until even later to take advantage of discounts.
But the increasing popularity of click-and-collect services helped the high street weather tough trading conditions.
Town centre shops recorded the smallest fall in shopper numbers, down 0.5% year-on-year last month compared with a 1% fall in out-of-town locations and a 2.8% drop in shopping centres. The picture was more gloomy over 2012 as a whole for the high street as it suffered the biggest drop in shopper numbers - down 3.3%.
Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC, said while the footfall figures made for painful reading, retailers were helped as shoppers spent more per visit.
BRC sales data for December showed like-for-like sales edging up 0.3% in December, boosted also by an 18% jump in internet trade. However, Friday's official sales figures from the Office for National Statistics were far less cheery, showing a worse-than-expected 0.1% drop in volumes month-on-month in December.
Ms Dickinson said: "Weak spending power is keeping people away and compounding long-standing difficulties in many of our town centres. This month's retail failures confirm the challenges are far from over."
Wales saw the biggest drop in footfall last month, down 11.5%, followed by the east with a 7.1% drop. The south west and north and Yorkshire regions both saw shopper numbers decline by 4.8%, while the south east recorded a 4.2% drop and footfall was 1.2% lower in the east Midlands.
Shopper numbers rose across four regions, led by the west Midlands with a 10% hike, Scotland up 6.2%, London 3.1% higher and Northern Ireland up 0.6%.