Our C-Store Champions discuss the ways they use the internet in their businesses, from a presence on social media to online ordering

Dan Cocks, Premier Whitstone stores, Holsworthy, Devon

Dan frequently uses Facebook for highlighting promotions to customers or linking up with other retailers

Binny Amin, Blean Village Londis in Canterbury, Kent

Binny rarely uses his desktop PC since buying an iPhone 6 + as he finds it so easy and convenient

Jatinder Sahota, Max’s Londis, Isle of Sheppey, Kent

Jatinder uses various devices to access the internet; even his staff have use of an iPad to record chiller temperatures and product dates

Adam Hogwood, Budgens Broadstairs, Kent

Adam is hoping to set up a YouTube channel for his store which will air video tutorials using products sold in his store

How do you access the internet?

Dan: It’s a mix really. I go between using my iPhone, tablet and desktop PC. As more applications have been developed for iPhones, I have used it more. It’s so much easier as it’s portable.

Binny: Most of the time I access the internet using my iPhone 6 - it’s so easy and convenient; I could run the whole business off it if I needed to. I use the desktop occasionally, but only really for research and placing Londis orders.

Jatinder: I use my iPhone the most, I even got a 6+ just so I could have the bigger screen; I use it almost as a mini laptop for the business. We also have an iPad in-store which the staff use for recording data such as temperature checks, refrigeration and dates.

Adam: I use my smartphone and desktop equally throughout the day, but for different things. I tend to use my smartphone for my social media accounts and the desktop for ordering and sorting documents. My staff also use the desktop as we have an account which can be logged in to from anywhere by a staff member with a log-in. They can access rotas, e-learning and any due diligence forms they may need to fill in.

Does your business have its own website, Facebook page or other page on social media?

Dan: We have a Facebook page, Twitter page and website. The website is more of a landing page; it gives basic information about the store, but doesn’t offer interaction and ‘post updates’ like Facebook and Twitter. Therefore we have links to our Facebook and Twitter pages through it.

Binny: We have a Facebook and Twitter page. Whatever I post on Facebook I also post on Twitter because we have two quite diverse audiences. I like to make the pages personal. I don’t upload product promotions, instead I talk about the community, family and share important information in the area.

Jatinder: We have just set up a Facebook page, but I have had my personal Twitter page running for a year. I am looking at setting up an Instagram account for the shop, too. I’m trialling it with a personal account first.

Adam: We have a Facebook and Twitter page.

When were you last online for business purposes, and what did you do when you were logged on?

Dan: I was on it two minutes prior to our conversation because I was amending an order; I did this on my desktop PC as it’s a lot easier.

Binny: I was on all through my lunch break today, looking at updates from companies on Twitter. I find a lot of my suppliers through Twitter, both national and local, by just searching the feed.

Jatinder: Just a few minutes before this call. I can tap into my Londis ordering system from anywhere using the app. When on the school run I had a few spare minutes so decided to check the orders. I then had a little surf on Twitter.

Adam: I have to admit that I just checked Twitter while on the phone to you. My smartphone sent me an alert that James Lowman had just written a tweet so I had a quick look.

How do you use the internet on a day-to-day basis to manage your business?

Dan: With more and more companies creating apps downloadable on iPhones, it has enabled me to log into apps away from my PC and carry out a range of tasks I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do.

Binny: I use the internet to interact with customers and confer with other retailers and suppliers. I don’t tend to send emails - I’m a firm believer in picking up the phone and talking as it gets you a direct response.

Jatinder: I use the internet to talk to customers, promote the store and engage with suppliers. I rarely use my PC unless I am placing orders.

Adam: I use social media pages to create discussions; I do this by tweeting about different subjects anything from once to five times a day. My Facebook is linked to Twitter so posts go on both pages.

Do you see the internet as having the potential to be a transactional tool for your business? Would you take this further and sell online?

Dan: Definitely. With regards to selling from my business using an online website, it is an idea that we have toyed with, but think it isn’t what our convenience store is about. We are about building relationships with our customers and doing our bit for the community. If we put our products online, we’d lose that.

Binny: There is a lot of money behind online ordering, but I just don’t understand it well enough. I’d be worried that if I started putting my products online, consumers would start comparing prices and I may lose out. I prefer to put the time into driving in-store sales, building relationships and ensuring I have the right marketing in place to drive footfall.

Jatinder: Online ordering is something that is creeping in slowly. It’s something I would like to keep in mind for the future.

Adam: There is definitely potential there. I use the ‘i-Menzies App’ to contact the team if I have any problems with my Menzies orders and it works really well. This is what I would like to see more of.

Has the internet had a negative impact on your business?

Dan: Not really. Occasionally we have negative feedback on Facebook, but I like that - I’d rather know so that I can try to correct it.

Binny: Only once. I decided to drop milk prices to £1 - customers loved it, sales jumped from 120 units a week to 210 units. But we started to get comments on the website about how dropping the price will affect farmers. It was interesting to read, but I get my milk through Londis and they were not dropping the prices so I could sell it for less, I was.

Jatinder: Nothing yet, touch wood. We may get a negative comment one day, but rather than ignoring it I will respond and try to solve the situation as best I can.

Adam: One time a pigeon got stuck in our delivery tunnel which is lined with pest control netting. I was on holiday at the time and hadn’t seen it. The next thing I knew someone took a picture of it and uploaded it to Twitter, calling us ‘animal killers’. Word spread like wild fire. I managed to speak with the lady who initiated the status and she continues to shop in my store. I even posted a picture of us in the store together.

How do you plan to use the internet to improve your business in the future?

Dan: We need to focus more on our specific target market so we can harvest the right customer information for our websites. I would also like to gain more customer email addresses so we can send out newsletters and offers.

Binny: I’d like to create an app for the shop that local customers can download to their smartphones. This will display loyalty schemes, deals in-store and maybe even an option for ordering.

Jatinder: I would like to devise a Click and Collect service. I have been in contact with Londis as it’s something I would really like to try. It would be great if customers could pay for the order through the app, too.

Adam: I would like to begin using YouTube more. I have just set up an account for the store and was going to upload my first video today. The videos are like tutorials; the one I was working on was linked with The Great British Bake Off. As it was pastry week I decided to do a video showing how customers could make a healthy meal using filo pastry from our shop.

Are convenience retailers making the most of online opportunities?

Dan: Some are and some aren’t. Facebook is great and most customers expect retailers to have a page, yet many don’t.

Binny: I think only a handful are making the most of the internet, you can see it in the way shops operate. We are looking into getting a Beacon for push notifications into the store at the moment, another idea which uses the internet.

Jatinder: The ones online are, but those who aren’t need to get on board because social media is the future.

Adam: I don’t think anyone ever makes the most of what they have as you can always do more. Online opportunities are always evolving.

What advice would you offer to retailers who do not use the internet regularly?

Dan: Don’t be shy. Yes, it can take up a lot of your time, but once you know what you are doing it can be really beneficial. Having a good website or Facebook page sets you apart and makes your business look more professional. If a retailer doesn’t know what they are doing they should talk to someone that does; suppliers and reps can help, too. Facebook also has lots of informative groups which retailers can join like Postmaster Helper and Newsagent.

Binny: My advice is to use it. I love to interact with my customers on social media; you can have a laugh and really build up the relationship. Social media is easy to use once you get a grasp of it and there are so many different options.

Jatinder: Give it a go; it will definitely enhance your business and increase footfall. It takes time to build up follows and likes on Facebook, but the more posts you share and the more you interact, the more you will get. After setting up my Facebook account I had people coming in who didn’t even realise I had been there the past 25 years, and they found me because of social media.

Adam: Don’t be afraid - many are because they fear the unknown. I say give it a go and get stuck in. Find the right balance and find your business personality as it’s our personality that makes us different and sets us apart from the multiples.

Do you see the internet as a communication tool across applications?

Dan: I use Twitter quite regularly for trade conversations and I tend to send tweets if I’ve ever got an issue with something as you tend to get a much faster response. Take today, for example, we had an issue with Collect+ as they were late collecting our parcels. I tweeted them and within 30 minutes I had a tweet back sorting the problem. Had I called them I would have wasted a lot of time sitting on the phone.

Binny: We have a Londis retailer WhatsApp group, with about 20 members. It’s really useful as we all share ideas. We also have a WhatsApp group for staff. Every member has the app on their phone, so if there’s a problem in the shop, someone is ill or going to be late, we have an easy way of sharing information.

Jatinder: I use email to stay in touch with suppliers and occasionally staff. With all the different social media, staff have no reason to not be able to drop me a line if there’s a problem. I also have a few WhatsApp groups; one with Londis retailers and another with close family and friends who are in the business.

Adam: I am part of a WhatsApp group with retail ambassadors for United Biscuits. It’s not all biscuit talk, though; it’s light-hearted and we share some good information. I am always linked up to email, too.

How long do you spend online each day? Do you think this will increase in the future?

Dan: At least half of my day is spent on an array of devices, for both personal use and business use. And why wouldn’t I when 90% of orders and queries are done via the internet these days?

Binny: My wife would probably say I’m on the internet all day! But I’d say I’m on it for up to two hours a day, split up into two minutes here and two minutes there. I’m always using my phone during this time, smartphones are just so clever - links are saved, you can stayed logged into apps - if I had to log on to all of my apps through web pages on the computer I don’t think I’d ever get online with all the different passwords.

Jatinder: Too long! I am on and off a lot throughout the day. The business is an all-day thing and therefore the social media pages should be, too. When I first started I underestimated how much time I would be spending online.

Adam: I probably spend about four hours a day online, but that’s split up throughout the day. I’m linked up to the internet for as long as I’m at work because most things come through to my phone. I hope my internet usage will decrease in the future. I’d like to see more symbol groups creating apps which simplify some of the processes.