Store owners have been told to harness the power of social media or risk missing out on sales.

Speaking at the Better Wholesaling Summit in Birmingham last week, Pete Doyle, chief executive and founder of Social Retail Group, said talking to customers is now the key to building a long-lasting strategy to boost a business.

Figures from the Association of Convenience Stores reveal only 20% of stores have an active Twitter account and 23% have an active Facebook account. However, other industry commentators put these figures significantly lower.

Mr Doyle warned that businesses who shun social media are missing a big opportunity, and with it important custom. Store owners have to connect with customers on it, he said.

“You can’t buy loyalty any more. Find out what your customers want to talk about and how you can have a conversation with them. Yes, you need to plan images and videos, but the best content is customer-generated stories,” he said.

“The secret is around listening. If you have the time you can build a competitive advantage.”

He added that store owners should not focus on building high numbers of followers or use these to judge their success on social media. “Ultimately it’s all about engendering trust and talking to the followers you have rather than simply broadcasting what you do to them.

“Don’t obsess about having millions of followers, just build a conversation with them. The more external your business, the more we trust you. It’s great when customers take things they’ve bought home and take pictures of them.

“Ask customers what they want to buy when planning a new range. If you get it right you’ll know because you’ll build relationships with your customers and you’ll build your margin,” he added.