The harsh winter took a toll on retailers in New Jersey and the Northeast, but continued optimism -- and increased use of technology and social media in the marketing mix -- bode well for the industry heading into the second half of the year, according to Levin Management Corporation's mid-year Retail Sentiment Survey.

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"The winter weather did limit customer traffic during the first part of the year, but business owners are beginning to see an increase now," said Matthew Harding, president of Levin Management. "Memorial Day weekend sales were good and they are projecting to be ahead of last year for the rest of the year, so in general there is optimism for the balance of the year, and (retailers are) seeing stronger sales now as well."

According to the survey, while only 42.9 percent of respondents indicated that year-to-date sales were the same or higher as the same period in 2013, 49.5 percent reported that their Memorial Day weekend sales were the same or better than last year, up from 37.5 percent in the 2013 poll.

Retailers are maintaining a positive outlook for the remainder of 2014. More than half of survey respondents (52 percent) believe that sales will improve in the coming months. This represents a significant jump over last year's survey, when only 34.5 percent anticipated improving sales. Another 16.3 percent anticipate that their sales will remain about the same during the second half of 2014.

"The positive outlook and the expansion plans among our survey respondents reflect retailer confidence in the marketplace," Harding said. "The hiring and growth-trend findings do parallel what we are observing in our shopping centers and throughout the industry. Some retailers are continuing to right-size as their stores come up for renewal, to gain more efficient, streamlined operation. At the same time, a significant number of concepts are opening new stores and gaining market share in our region."

Retailers are looking to open additional stores, which is a sign of improved sales and confidence, and Harding said 33 percent of respondents have increased staff since the beginning of the year. More business owners are also using technology and social media to attract customers. In fact, 86.5 percent indicated that their companies actively use mobile apps, social media sites, email, texting and other tools.

"Nearly 70 percent have said their use of technology has increased since last year," Harding said. "This is an impressive number and indicates that not only is technology an established part of the mix, but its role is growing."

For more on this survey, click here.