As shoppers stayed at home during the third national lockdown, shopper numbers across England dived by 78% against the same month last year, according to BRC-ShopperTrak footfall monitor.
The decline was sharper than in the second lockdown in England, which resulted in a 76% footfall drop.
However, January saw a shallower drop in footfall than the 82% slump witnessed in the first national lockdown.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Footfall went from bad to worse in January, dropping by over three quarters.
“So far, retail locations in England are being hit harder than in the previous lockdown.
“Under tight restrictions for the whole month, shopping centres saw the biggest decline in footfall of all retail locations, overtaking high streets for the first time since July 2020.”
Shopping centre footfall slid by 78.2% for the month, representing its steepest level of decline since May last year.
High street shopping locations were also badly affected by the closure of non-essential stores, with footfall down by 73.3%.
Retail parks remained the most resilient shopping locations, with a 40.9% fall as it was boosted by higher numbers of large supermarkets.
Andy Sumpter, retail consultant at ShopperTrak, said: “With the first full month of a new national lockdown, January certainly won’t have been the start to the year retailers were hoping for, as once more they had to shut up shop and inevitably footfall plummeted.
“But while it’s easy to let shuttered stores paint a bleak picture for the future of the high street – with many retailers now having faced almost a full year of store reopenings and closures as waves of Covid-19 have ebbed and flowed – it’s important to remember that when retail has reopened from lockdown, demand for in-store shopping has returned each time.”
In a separate report, accountancy and advisory firm BDO revealed January retail sales tumbled lower by a tenth.
Total like-for-like sales, which include store and online sales, dropped by 10% in January, its monthly high street sales tracker revealed.
Non-store sales, which are primarily online transactions, rocketed by 132.8% against the same month last year due to lockdown restrictions, representing the strongest growth on record.
The lifestyle and fashion retail sectors were particularly harmed by store closures, reporting 16.7% and 12.1% declines respectively for the month.
Meanwhile, homeware sales improved for the ninth consecutive month.
Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “You would normally see positive growth at the start of the year thanks to the post-Christmas sales, but this year, retailers experienced a bleak January after a very lacklustre Christmas.
“Recent administrations point to a squeeze on the middle market.
“With unemployment set to rise further, the hit to discretionary spend will likely push shoppers towards value retailers and ever-growing online retail platforms, putting further pressure on the midmarket.”