Footfall rose 1.6% in January as customers returned to the shops after a muted December and avoided the rain by visiting shopping centres.

The January footfall rise was the best performance since December 2011 and represented a significant upturn from the 2.4% fall in December, according to BRC-Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor for January.

Footfall in out-of-town locations improved substantially with a 5.7% rise and shopping centres reported an increase of 2.4% as shoppers sought drier locations during the wettest January on record.

Footfall on the high street was down 0.6% year on year although this was substantially up from the 3.7% fall recorded in December.

Greater London recorded the largest increase in regional footfall, up 3.2% year on year, while the south east suffered the biggest decline, down 1.7% year on year.

The vacancy rate was flat at 11% across the UK. It was 11.1% in Scotland, 16.4% in Wales and 18% in Northern Ireland.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “More shoppers were out and about in January, with a solid 1.6% in overall footfall across the country. It’s good news for retailers and it helps to explain the rise in sales we reported earlier in the month, demonstrating that UK shoppers were enthusiastically checking out the promotions available during the Sales season.

“Empty shops hurt local economies, and there’s still a need to reduce the costs of operating property by reforming the business rates system.”

Springboard retail insights director Diane Wehrle said: “This result demonstrates that whilst the growth of online retailing continues apace, retail destinations remain attractive to shoppers and that retailers’ approach in delivering a multichannel offer is the right one. 

“At the same time, however, all of the annual increase in footfall was driven by visits to shopping centres and particularly to retail parks, rather than to high streets, although this is likely to be a combination of the adverse impact of the ongoing rain on visits to external environments and the demand for furniture which drives visits to retail parks and supported January’s strong sales results.”