Social media and smartphone apps have revolutionised the tools retailers can use to engage with customers.

Instead of laboriously posting leaflets through hundreds of letterboxes, it’s possible to reach a wider pool of people with the click of a mouse.

And the potential of digital marketing is just being born: research company Gartner forecasts that, by 2017, mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times.

RN spoke to three retailers to find out how they are utilising social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in their businesses.

Bhavesh Parekh owns and runs a Family Shopper store in Bolton, LancashireBhavesh Parekh, Kwiksave, Little Lever

We’ve registered our own Facebook and Twitter pages, and they’re both really useful. We’ll tweet special offers, and obviously we’re linked into our main symbol group accounts so they can retweet our stuff or we can piggy back on their posts. Then with Facebook we continually push our own promotions, making good use of their boost app. We pay a little more to reach particular people, by age and demographics. So, depending on the product, we can tailor the advertising to reach key customers – with a soft drink promotion, for example, we’ll target young people. It’s very effective.

WEB-Jacqui-BaileyJacqui Bailey, Spar London Road Bakery, Boston, Lincolnshire 

We use a bit of Twitter, but it’s better for networking with suppliers than growing sales with customers. Facebook is really useful but I’ve found that direct promotions don’t work so well – we use it to raise awareness of our shop rather than hit our followers with the mass images provided by Spar. The best posts reflect how local we are: putting up photos of the shop building or street from Victorian times, or posting an update whenever a member of staff has done something interesting. People know our staff and recognise them, so that catches their attention. We’ve got over 1,100 followers now: it’s really caught on and is a great way to generate a sense of involvement with the store.

Sandeep-bainsSandeep Bains, Simply Fresh, Faversham, Kent

We’ve just cut down our leafleting from distributing 4,000 around the local area to having 500 in-store. Instead we’ll e-leaflet on Facebook – so in place of paying £300 for printing and distribution, it’ll cost me £10 or £20 or whatever I want to pay at a particular time. And whereas with leaflets, when I’ve got basically no idea how people are responding, with Facebook I’ll get proper feedback in terms of how many people see it and whether they like it or not. It’s very flexible and we can adjust how much we want to spend on targeted advertising and depth of feedback. For example, we got a big hit when we promoted a big advert saying we’d be open on Christmas Day – it doubled our sales, and everyone who came in said they knew we’d be open from Facebook.

To read the full feature, which includes advice on a host of apps available to retailers, see this week’s edition of Retail Newsagent.