Over the last few months we have heard reports of drastic falls in profits in the retail and supermarket sectors.
There are dire predictions of empty High Streets and general falling off of consumer spending.
There are many reasons for this and the Institute of Directors has just published a report that analyses the main long term influences on this slowdown in our spending patterns.
Not surprisingly, a slight increase in unemployment nationally and marked stagnation in house prices have a huge impact on how we behave with our money. Supporting children through their training and higher education takes its toll on family incomes and then when we've done that we worry about old age and our pensions.
The generation that liked to shop has been listening to investment advice and following interest rates rather than fashion trends.
Many people have had to face the fact that despite the low interest rates that we have all enjoyed for so long it is very hard to pay off debts, especially credit card debts. There is a greater air of caution now in the way we spend and what we can afford to borrow money for.
There is also a change in how we shop. Shopping has become a chore rather than a treat. If you are working all day and bringing up a family you are far more likely to buy off the internet from the comfort of your home than take the bus to town.
"I couldn't find anything I liked." is the cry most often heard when one enquires about a shopping spree. Could this be because the main stores and fashion houses are all catering for a generation of young, slender people who like to party? This rather ignores the demographics.
With our instincts changing to the idea of saving and careful spending, small businesses have a huge advantage over large chains because they know the people for whom they are catering. They are able to supply the type of merchandise that suits the purse and the person in their local area.
Small firms are able to adapt more quickly and easily to market changes and demands and to recognise the needs of individual customers. Supermarket chains are trying to emulate this type of personal service now but small retailers have the edge.
If the major retailers are feeling the pinch over the next few months and years then yes, it's time for the small businesses to start cashing in. Small local firms giving good service are already there.
What needs to happen now is some innovative thinking about the ways that the new, more careful shoppers can be attracted through the doors. This change in values and thought patterns can be encouraged to benefit not only the customers but the businesses as well. Once they realise that small is good they will keep coming back, that way we all benefit.
* Diane Rayner is an independent adviser on small businesses in the West Midlands