According to evidence from the Local Data Company, the proportion of shops lying empty in Britain hit a record high of 14.6% in February, suggesting a difficult start to 2012 for retailers.

Vacancy rates had begun to stabilise at the end of 2011, but started to rise once again in January and February, possibly reflecting consumer worries about future employment prospects – a recent survey by Nationwide showed an increasing number of respondents describing their economic situation as bad. In this situation, consumers will be trying to save as much money as possible.

Our high streets need vision, trade and investment

Back in December, retail expert Mary Portas produced a report for the Government looking into ways to revitalise high streets. While she warned that things will never go back the 'traditional image' of butcher, baker and fishmonger she encouraged a bigger role for independent entrepreneurs. Small businesses create a sense of individuality and community in towns and we know that customers want to use them. However rising costs and competition with cheap-to-build out-of-town retail parks and the internet are making it harder for retailers in town. Therefore continued investment from indies into their businesses is vital. Sharing ideas with other shops is a great way to find out what works and where to place this investment.

Evans Cycles, one of the UK's biggest bike retailers, has also reiterated the importance of price and of demonstrating value for money. Although a bike is obviously a bigger purchase than some groceries, the point remains extremely valid for convenience stores – consumers are far more willing to part with their money if they see the purchase as good value!

The government's response to the Portas review and their strategy to support small businesses is expected this spring.