Shopping centres saw footfall plummet by almost half (49.5%) compared to the same day in 2016, according to research from retail analysts Springboard.
The high streets were also noticeably sparser of customers this year, down 12.7% on the year before, with a 23.8% average decline across all types of retailer.
Bad weather, reduced opening hours and spending sprees at the start of the festive period were all blamed for the dip.
On average, the weekend as a whole saw a drop of 16.1% across high streets, shopping centres and retail parks, the analysis said.
But increased sales poured in over the two days thanks to online shopping, which shot up 6.8% - including 18.2% on New Year’s Eve.
High street footfall on New Year’s Eve also fell, but less sharply than in 2015, down 2.4% compared with last year’s drop of 5.1%
Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s insights director, said: “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 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.
“Shopping centres in particular have a challenge ahead in 2017. Having experienced a decline in footfall during 2016, these destinations need to up their game in order to provide additional reasons to draw shoppers away from their devices with an offer going beyond retail.”