The significant drop in retail footfall over the festive period in Northern Ireland is a "major concern", according to industry experts.
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium and Springboard's figures for December 2013, published today, reveal shopper numbers were 8.7% lower than in December 2012, down on the 6.3% decline in November 2013.
This was much lower than the overall UK figure, where shopper numbers were down by 2.4%.
Shoppers are thought to have stayed away from the high street due to a number of factors, including severe weather, online shopping, security alerts, explosions in Belfast and elsewhere – and to hold out for the big sales in January.
Northern Ireland was also the worst performing UK region in terms of shop vacancies, at 18.5% – nearly double the UK average.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said: "It's deeply concerning to see Northern Ireland suffered by far the steepest drop in footfall in December, especially after some tentative signs that growth was starting to go the other direction in November.
"Although disposable incomes are feeling the squeeze across the UK, budgets in Northern Ireland are under the greatest pressure, and there are weighty tasks in the year ahead to build and maintain confidence among customers and retailers."
Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said Northern Ireland had "a more challenging time" in December than in the UK as a whole.
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts said he was "disappointed that once again Northern Ireland has the worst decline in retail footfall in the UK".
Meanwhile, Paul McMahon, president of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce said: "It is clear from data collected across the UK that footfall reflects a change in shopping patterns with many people moving to different shopping channels to make their purchases, and it is clear that this multichannel approach is set to continue."