Footfall fell 4.6% year on year in January as heavy snow deterred people from shopping, representing the weakest footfall figure recorded since last April, when shopper numbers declined 6.9%.

The BRC/Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor showed snow hit shopper numbers across the country during the second half of the month.

Footfall weakened in all three locations compared with a year earlier. Out-of-town locations reported the greatest fall, down 7.2%, followed by shopping centres, down 5.2%, and the high street, which fell 3.3%.

Footfall fell the most in the North and Yorkshire, down 8.3%, while shopper numbers rose 2.2% in the Southwest.

The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 10.9% in January, down from a record high of 11.3% in October 2012, although vacancies shot up in Wales.

British Retail Consortium director-general Helen Dickinson 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.”

She added: “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.”

Springboard research director Diane Wehrle said: “What is unusual – particularly in the winter – is that the high street fared better than shopping centres, which recorded a decline in footfall of 5.2%. One possible reason for this is the greater diversity of high streets, which provide a wide-ranging offer and a greater representation of independents.”