The proportion of empty shops in British town centres hit a record in October in the face of stagnating sales and rising costs, with Northern Ireland the worst, according to a new survey.
This year has seen several high profile retail failures, including sportswear group JJB Sports, outdoor goods group Blacks Leisure, video games retailer Game and greetings card firm Clinton Cards. Though they all re-emerged in some form, hundreds of stores have closed.
The retail lobby group said the proportion of empty stores on UK high streets and in shopping centres was 11.3pc in October, the highest figure since the BRC began publishing the survey in July 2011 and 0.4pc worse year-on-year.
It said Northern Ireland (20pc), Wales (15.1pc) and the North and Yorkshire (14.6pc) had the highest vacancy rates.
"This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing," said British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson, adding the survey "confirms that financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over."
Though about two-thirds of Britain's GDP is generated by consumer spending, retailers are mostly struggling as consumers' disposable incomes are eroded by rising prices, subdued wages growth and government austerity measures.
Official data on Thursday showed British retail sales posted a surprise fall in October as shoppers cut back on food and clothing purchases, reducing the chances consumers will boost the economy in the final quarter.
That data came a day after the Bank of England warned that Britain faced years of meagre economic growth coupled with rising prices, adding that its ability to numb the pain was nearing its limit.