More than one in 10 shops in the UK's town centres remained vacant in October, as retailers continue to be hurt by weak sales and high costs.
The vacancy rate in the UK's high streets and shopping centres was 11.3 percent in October, according to the British Retail Consortium. The rate was 0.4 percentage point above the previous month and the highest since the agency began collecting nation-wide data in July 2011.
Among cities, Northern Ireland posted the highest vacancy rate of 20.0 percent, followed by Wales and the North & Yorkshire that recorded vacancy rates of 15.1 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.
"This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing. It's the worst vacancy rate since the survey began in July 2011 and confirms that financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over," said Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium director general.
"Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year's threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse," he added.
Robertson also called for freezing business rates in 2013 in order to keep the sector alive, playing a vital role in job creation.
Earlier, the administrators of insolvent Comet said they will close 41 stores of the electrical retail chain by the end of November. Retailers including JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Blacks Leisure, Game and Peacocks have also cut back their operations.
On the back of the weakness in the sector, retail sales declined 0.8 percent in October, according to the Office for National Statistics.
BRC added that footfall, a measurement of the number of shoppers, declined year over year by 0.4 percent in the three months to October, but improved from the 3.3 percent fall in the previous quarter.
"October had the most detrimental impact on retail footfall over the past quarter," according to Steve Booth, CEO of information group Springboard.
Nevertheless, the temporary lets during the Christmas season are expected to improve vacancy figures. Meanwhile, opportunistic landlords may become more flexible and ease rental rates in an attempt to fill empty shops.