Britain's high streets are dying out because of the relentless rise of online shopping, a damning report shows.
Families spent £767million less in town centre shops last year than they did in 2004 – the first decline for 20 years.
Total high street spending fell to £122.3billion, a study by retail analyst Verdict Research found. Meanwhile, Britons spent £8.2billion online in 2005 – or an average of £560 per head, up from £436 in 2002.
Researchers are blaming the boom in Internet shopping – which has rocketed by more than 350 per cent in just five years – soaring rents and the popularity of out-of-town retail parks.
They fear once thriving shopping streets across the country could soon resemble ghost towns.
Falling trade has already led to the collapse of such major retailers as QS, Morgan and Kookai.
In July, books and music chain HMV blamed a 20 per cent fall in profits on competition from supermarkets and the growth in online shopping.
Even high street stalwart Woolworths is reported to be struggling, with one major shareholder keen to break up the company.
The misery looks set to continue, with high street spending forecast to rise by just 0.1 per cent a year over the next five years.
The Federation of Small Businesses estimates 2,000 small shops are closing each year.
A spokesman said: 'I don't think there is much we can do about the Internet but ministers should look at the aggressive tactics used by the supermarkets before our town centres end up looking like ghost towns.'
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