The vitality of towns is being "drained" as fewer customers use local shops, a new report warned.
A study by the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) and O2 found that two-thirds of independent retailers reported falling or static numbers of customers in the past year.
Around one in six local retailers polled feared they would go out of business next year unless sales improved.
Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive of BIRA, said: "Footfall is falling, draining the vitality of our towns and making life increasingly hard for independents.
"There are over a quarter of a million small retail businesses in Great Britain and while consumers continue to love them, they do not see them as clearly as they do the big multiples with the big national brands."
Ben Dowd, director of business at O2, added: "Against the backdrop of one of the toughest economic periods ever seen on the UK high street, we know that times can feel particularly tough for small business owners, who often lack the time and resources to make the most of their marketing, particularly in the fast evolving digital world."