To some, it?s a modern-day David v Goliath struggle ? small, independent shops rooted in the community against the big national supermarket chains. Shahid Naqvi looks at the battle on the high streets...
The rise and rise of the supermarket is the shopping phenomenon of the last 30 years.
Today, at least one of the ?big four? retailers of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury?s and the newly-merged Safeway/Morrisons has a presence on nearly every high street.
Increasingly, they are challenging those food retailers that have not already been put out of business by offering their own version of the open all hours convenience store.
And it?s not just grocery shops that are feeling the pinch.
With supermarkets increasingly diversifying into products such as clothes, toys, stationary and kitchenware, the threat is widespread.
This week the Forum of Private Business said enough was enough and called for an inquiry into the ?unfair dominance of the grocery market? by the retail giants.
?The truth is, ever since they started, supermarkets have been accused of putting smaller shopkeepers out of business and decimating high streets,? said Judi Bevan, author of Trolley Wars - The Battle of the Supermarkets.
?In some cases they have, but if people prefer to go shopping by car it is not the supermarkets that are doing it. It has been consumerdriven and the supermarkets have supplied the customer with what they wanted.?
What has slipped away in recent times, according to Ms Bevan, are the controls on supermarket expansion.
?Before, you had convenience stores alongside supermarkets because they were open when supermarkets weren?t,? she said.
?Now they are open longer and so the convenience store has lost that competitive edge.?
Ironically, Ms Bevan believes Tesco?s success could be its undoing.
?I think Tesco has made a mistake going into the convenience sector,? she said.
?They are in very visible middle-class areas in London like Chelsea, Hamstead and Highgate. Suddenly these media commentators become very aware of them on their doorstep.?
Practices such assuchas ?predatory pricing? and selling certain products at a loss to draw in customers, are also leaving a bitter taste with many customers.
?I am very pro-marketeer and I believe in good competition but it is rather like putting a heavyweight in a ring with a lightweight and expecting them to have a fair fight,? said Ms Bevan.
The supermarkets have not, however, done anything illegal, according to Simon Mowbray, of The Grocer magazine.
?Arguably they have muscled in on smaller retailers but they haven?t broken any laws by doing that.
?It is a paradox really. Independent retailers feel they are playing on an unlevel playing field and consumers are increasingly complaining about Tesco store openings.
?They don?t necessarily want a 100,000 sq ft Tesco on their doorstep. But, at the end of the day, the undeniable fact is that people are still shopping at Tesco and in increasing numbers all the time.? Which is why the company became the first British retailer to make an annual profit of #2 billion last year.
?You don?t do that if everyone hates you,? Mr Mowbray added.
Not everyone, however, believes consumer convenience can be the ultimate judge on such matters.
Tara Haughian, co-founder of Second Nature, a Northern Ireland-based organisation promoting sustainable communities, said: ?The risk is you create clone towns because all you see on the high street are bland outlets with global chains.
?Areas do not become distinctive for the people who live there or attractive for people to visit.
?Also, if you lose local bakers, butchers and grocers, people lose a sense of belonging and a source of local gossip.
?That impacts on people?s wellbeing. Places with zero social capital are linked with early death and a negative perception of community safety.
?It is not just the supermarkets killing the high streets. It is bigger than that.?
Is it time for shoppers to get local again? Read the arguments for: