Britain's retail industry kicked off the new year on a mixed note, as online sales soared but the number of customers looking for bargains in shopping centres across the UK halved from last year.

According to data released by retail consultancy firm Springboard Insights, footfall including in out of town retail parks fell by 23.8% year-on-year, while the number of shoppers heading to shopping centres and high streets tumbled 49.5% and 12.7% respectively.

The accessibility of online sales and a combination of cold weather, bank holiday trading hours and a shopping spree in December all contributed to deter shoppers from venturing outdoors.

"The ease and comfort of online shopping proved too enticing for shoppers keen to snap up further discounts in the sales rather than bracing the cold outdoors," said Diane Wehrle, a director at Springboard Insights.

"Retailers traditionally see the first trading weekend of the New Year as a sign of things to come, and if this still rings true the industry is set for a rocky 2017."

The decline followed a disappointing performance on Boxing Day, which saw footfall decline 7.3% compared to the corresponding period last year.

However, despite the lacklustre figures, retail analyst Nick Bubb warned against knee-jerk reactions, suggesting the decline in footfall was partly attributable to a calendar shift. "The weekend obviously wasn't fully comparable to last year, so they need to be taken with a pinch of salt, particularly given the continuing shift to online shopping," he said.

"Given the increasing traffic congestion on the roads, there is every reason to expect that more people will opt for the convenience of online shopping in 2017 and that will further undermine high street footfall, at a time when consumers are going to be increasingly careful about how they spend their money, as real incomes come under pressure."

The eyes of investors and analysts will be firmly focused on Britain's retail sector this month, with a number of big-ticket companies set to publish results related to their Christmas trading. Fashion retailer Next kicks off proceedings on Wednesday (4 January), followed by Sainsbury's on 11 January.

Meanwhile, Tesco, Debenhams, and Primark-owner Associated British Foods will publish their results 24 hours later.