Nearly half of independent retailers have experienced a drop in sales over the past three months, a survey by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has revealed.

The Voice of Local Shops survey showed that 46% of retailers reported lower sales from November to January compared with the same period the previous year, with unaffiliated stores hit harder than symbols.

The recession and competition were cited as the two biggest obstacles to success. Some 88% of respondents said the squeeze on consumer spending would hinder them, while 71% feared that competition would slow them down.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said the twin threats were causing sleepless nights. “Only one in five retailers report that sales and profits were increasing, whereas nearly half reported declining sales and profits,” he said. “The general state of the economy is the main concern, and the threat of a big store opening up close by is keeping retailers awake at night.”

However, the survey also revealed a good deal of optimism, with 47% of retailers believing that their sales would increase over the next 12 months.”Nearly half of retailers expect sales and profits to grow in 2012, and 20% say they are considering refurbishment or improvement of their store,” he commented.

Steve Bassett of Londis Weymouth in Dorset said that although trade had been down of late, he was optimistic for 2012. “The past couple of weeks have been slow, but with everything happening in 2012, I think it will be a strong year,” he said.