The number of high street visits made by Christmas Eve shoppers fell by more than 40 per cent compared with the same day last year, according to figures released yesterday.
Significantly fewer people ventured out to buy last minute presents - down 43 per cent - but this compares a restricted Sunday trading day to last year when Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday.
High streets and shopping centres saw their busiest day of the festive period on Thursday, according to figures from the Retail FootFall Index released by the organisation FootFall.
The data also revealed the number of shopper visits on Saturday increased by eight per cent when compared to Saturday December 24, 2005, and by 0.7 per cent when compared to Saturday December 16, last weekend.
Natasha Burton, marketing manager at FootFall, said: "The Christmas weekend figures, which signal the culmination of the shopping period, show that Saturday was the best day of the weekend, with shoppers out in force buying last minute gifts and Christmas merchandise.
"Christmas Eve was very quiet this year on the High Street and in the shopping centres.
"It seems that shoppers have taken advantage of the long build-up this final week to complete their chores by Christmas Eve to allow them to spend the day travelling or enjoying the festive spirit with friends and family.
"Extended opening times this final week have allowed consumers to shop steadily this year, the increasingly later opening times fitting into their lifestyles, allowing shoppers to browse and purchase gifts after work.
"The rush culminated on Thursday December 21, the busiest shopping day of the Christmas period so far.
The post-Christmas sales, many of which begin today will be eagerly anticipated this year to see whether bargain hunters will be out in force and set the tone for a prosperous sales period ahead.
The FootFall data is based on a representative sample of the UK's shopping centres to reflect the country's buying habits.