Activity last month was 1.1 per cent down compared with a year ago, according to the British Retail Consortium and Springboard.
The high street fared worst, with numbers down 2.9 per cent compared with a year earlier. This was offset by an increase of 2.5 per cent in retail parks, thanks to strong furniture and household goods sales. Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said the high street was suffering as people increasingly shopped after 5pm in large centres and retail parks rather than in towns.
Overall activity during the day fell by 3.9 per cent in February, but there was growth of 0.2 per cent in early evening shopping, Springboard said.
Separate research suggested some resilience in the face of tough trading with store closures last year at their lowest level since 2010.
According to PwC and the Local Data Company, 5,138 shops closed last year, while 4,640 opened, a net reduction of 498. In 2014, there was a net reduction of 987 shops. PwC said there was “a less hostile environment for embattled retailers” with fewer administrations.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “These relatively tepid figures do not fully reflect the changing nature of retail as an industry. Retailers are competing with each other harder than ever.”