Shoppers numbers “fell sharply” in week ending December 16 as footfall dropped 2.6%.

Footfall in shopping centres reported the biggest decline, plunging 4.3%, according to the BRC-Springboard Footfall Monitor while out-town was down 2.1% and high streets fell 2%.

However, footfall was up 3.3% week-on-week, with visitors to shopping centres jumping 5.7%.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said all was not lost, as customers are leaving it late this year with this weekend set to be “the big one”. She said: “With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year many of us feel that we have a few more days to finalise our festive shopping.”

“We’re predicting a last-minute rush which means it’s all still to play for in terms of how Christmas trading ends up overall.”

Visa Europe predicts that UK shoppers are set to spend £1.26bn on its cards this Saturday, almost £15,000 every second, which would make it the busiest shopping day of the year. It expects to process 31.9 million transactions on the day.

Visa Europe commercial director Dr Steve Perry said: “Despite a cautious start to consumer spending in the build-up to Christmas, our data shows that spending has improved slowly but surely and we expect this trend to continue over the coming weekend and right up to Christmas Eve.

The busiest shopping day usually falls on December 23, however with this falling on a Sunday, shoppers are likely to take to the high street on Saturday to take advantage of the longer shopping hours to pick up their last minute presents.

Meanwhile, department store John Lewis are drafting in a team of over 50 helpers, known as ‘Eleventh Hour Elves”, to help shoppers find gifts in five of its stores on Saturday.

The department store expects sales of toys such as the Kurio tablet and more traditional products such as Lego, board games and scooters to “significantly increase” alongside gifts such as cashmere and perfume sets.