Footfall fell by 3.5% year-on-year in December, according to new figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
This fall in the number of customers on the high street and in shopping centres represents the biggest decline since March 2013.
In a double whammy to retailers, margins were also squeeze by higher costs, as well as cheaper prices online and promotions such as Black Friday.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson commented: “Households had to use their money more carefully, researching products online, rather than heading out to stores to browse.
“Retail parks fared slightly better than high streets by providing Christmas shoppers with the draw and convenience of parking, easy click-and-collect, and leisure facilities.”