Retailer optimism is growing despite falling sales, according to the latest finding of the Association of Convenience Stores’ (ACS) Voice of Local Shops survey.

The research, based on interviews with 1,240 independent retailers each quarter, explores retailer optimism, recent sales experience, crime committed in stores, and retailers’ community activity. Key findings from the survey conducted in February include:

• retailer optimism has grown for the second quarter in a row;

• recent sales have been poor, hitting a two-year low;

• there is an increase in retailers planning to invest in their stores; and

• the vast majority (84%) of stores engage in some form of community activity, with this number rising to 93% in Wales and the South West.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Optimism fell dramatically after last July’s budget, but it is now rebuilding steadily. Hopefully George Osborne’s extension of small business rate relief, and defeat of plans to extend Sunday trading hours for large shops will give further grounds for optimism, but the introduction of the National Living Wage next month will hit local shops hard, and we are concerned that this quarter’s expected increase in staff hours will be difficult to sustain.

“The recent sales performance reported by retailers puts their optimism in perspective. We have hit a two-year low in terms of the number of retailers reporting a decline in sales, and while the mild, wet Winter may explain this in part, it shows that this is a tough sector where retailers have to earn every bit of growth.”