NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Small retailers are optimistic about higher holiday sales this year, but most do not plan to translate that into hiring, according to a survey by Manta, an online community that helps customers find more than 64 million small businesses.

Approximately 49% of retailers say they are optimistic sales will increase this holiday season compared with last year, with the majority selling a mix of inexpensive and expensive merchandise, according to two weeks of polling ending Oct. 13. Manta questioned 792 small businesses, most of which have fewer than 10 employees, represented on its Web site. This is the first year the company has conducted the survey.
Small retailers are optimistic about higher holiday sales, but most do not plan to translate that into hiring.

Holiday retail sales are expected to be up 2.8% this year, to $456.6 billion, over the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 2.6%, says the National Retail Federation. That's lower than the 5.2% increase seen last year, the NRF says. On the whole, is predicting an "average" holiday season due to consumer wariness, extended high unemployment, higher gas and food prices and a teetering stock market.

On the one hand, customers seem to be valuing shopping locally as opposed to the big box retailers, business owners say. The Manta surveyed noted that 38% of respondents are heading into the holiday shopping season with better sales than last year. (Another 36% said sales were flat.)

"Consumers in our community really seem to understand the value of shopping locally. We are hopeful this trend will continue through the upcoming holiday season and beyond," Beautiful Brains Books and Games President and CEO Jodi Black told Manta.

The shaky economy could hamper that, and small independent retailers are more than ever competing against an increasing number of discount retailers, department stores and online retailers. It doesn't help when large discount retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores ( WMT - Get Report) bring back layaway plans and offer price matching for local competitor prices to make up for slower sales.

With less help and more competition, small businesses will need to be more aggressive than ever in winning customers. Two ways small retailers can beat out the larger competition is by providing exceptional customer service and using social media to promote their brand and interact with their following.

Other ways include unique merchandise and special incentives, the survey notes.

The Manta poll found that about 75% of respondents say they will use social media to promote their holiday offerings this year.

"During the holiday season especially, small retailers need to leverage online tools and the collective expertise of the greater small-business community to help them reach new markets," says Pamela Springer, president and CEO of Manta. "Small businesses are the growth engine for the national economy, so it's essential they have tools that foster their success now and throughout the year."

Unfortunately, retailers' optimism for the holidays isn't translating into jobs. Eighty-six percent of respondents decided not to hire additional seasonal staff, the survey found. About one-third of those who do not plan to hire for the holidays say they can't afford the extra employees, while half say they don't need the extra help.

That contradicts an October survey by the NRF estimating that the retail industry will hire between 480,000 to 500,000 seasonal workers this year, comparable to the 495,000 seasonal workers hired during the 2010 season. The NRF is a trade association whose members include large and small retailers.

"As the retail industry bounces back from the recession and continues to add jobs, some holiday employees could find themselves with an opportunity for even more: a new career in one of the most innovative industries on the planet," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay says in a statement.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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