The soggy summer weather decimated footfall on the UK's high streets between May and July, compounding the pressure on retailers from the prolonged consumer spending downturn.
Visitor numbers to the high street have now fallen for the last year and a half, although the persistent rain meant that shopping centres offering cover from the elements fared better over the last quarter.
A 0.2 per cent rise in town centre shop vacancy rates to 11.4 per cent further lays bare the malaise affecting retail chains without a substantial internet presence as the shift to online shopping continues, according to the British Retail Consortium and Springboard survey.
Footfall on the high streets tumbled by 7.3 per cent in July, leading to an average fall of 5.5 per cent over the three months from 1 May.
Stephen Robertson, the BRC's director general, said: "Some of the wettest weather on record drove a sharp decline in shopper numbers over the quarter. July saw the biggest drop in overall footfall with high streets suffering the most. Apart from the Christmas boost in December, high-street footfall has been down for 18 months, driven by jobs fears and falling disposable incomes."
Across high street, out-of-town and shopping centres, total shopper numbers fell by 2.3 per cent between May and July, compared with the same period last year. This reflected a more modest 1.2 per cent fall in footfall at out-of-town retail parks and a 0.4 per cent decline at shopping centres over the quarter.
London suffered the worst footfall, with an 8.9 per cent fall over the quarter, followed by Scotland's 8.2 per cent decline.
However, some of the capital's retailers appear to have benefited from the Olympics. A separate survey from Springboard found that footfall on Greater London's high streets – excluding those in the centre of the city – rose by 5 per cent for the 16 days of the Games. This followed a return in visitors to shops during the second week of London 2012 after earlier warnings about traffic congestion failed to materialise. But across the UK's high streets footfall slipped by 0.2 per cent between 27 July and 12 August, reflecting the consumer downturn and many people being glued to their TVs cheering on Team GB's Olympians.