The number of high street shoppers in Northern Ireland slumped last month amid stiff competition from the internet and click and collect retailers, research showed.
Totals were 2% down on a year ago and followed a marginal increase at the end of last year, according to the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).
The vacancy rate slightly improved but a researcher warned footfall levels were volatile.
Diane Wehrle said: "This drop was driven by high streets, where footfall declined by 3.4%.
"Without doubt this is due to both the challenge of the internet and the convenience of out-of-town locations for click-and-collect as they offer plentiful, accessible parking that is free of charge."
Numbers shifted downward by 3 percentage points to a drop of 2.4% in January compared with an increase of 1.4% in December.
This drop was driven by high streets, where footfall declined by 3.4%.
Director of the consortium Aodhan Connolly said: "Today's footfall figures are an unfortunate start to 2015, after what was a robust and positive year as a whole last year.
"The decline in shopper numbers in January serves to underline the need for greater partnership working between town centres, local authorities and the Executive and a laser-like focus on delivering the support the high street needs to keep drawing in Northern Ireland's consumers."
Electrical retailer Currys has confirmed that its Belfast city centre branch is set to close, the latest in a series of major names to pull the shutters down.
Mr Connolly added: "Retailers will take some small comfort from the fact that the vacancy rate continues to decline.
"However, it remains stubbornly high.
"It's a continuing reminder that the policy mix still isn't quite right."