There's no ignoring the fact we live in the internet age. However, c-store retailers have so far been slow to embrace the technology - the time and money it takes to set up a website may seem unnecessary for small store operators with a local customer base. But there is a growing band of retailers who have found a way to make the web work to their advantage.

They are among the millions joining social media websites such as Facebook or MySpace, and creating a page for their store. It costs nothing, takes minutes to set up and the page can be updated at any time for free.

With more than 130 million users worldwide, Facebook is now widely recognised as the premier social media website. According to internet market research company Comscore, the site has become the fifth most visited in the UK. In 2008, the number of UK users jumped from seven million to 18 million.

MySpace also clocks up a substantial number of site visitors. Its figures show 110 million users connected worldwide, 10 million of them in the UK.

Barrie Seymour, who owns Londis Littletown in West Yorkshire, set up a Facebook page in July 2008 and updates it every day. "It didn't take long for me to set up the page and if someone posts a message on it I can find out straight away and respond to them," he says.

Barrie believes it is great for communicating with other retailers and sharing ideas for business. "A few store owners are online and if it's quiet here I can log on and have a chat with them. If I hear that someone has a good idea for their store and they're online, it's easy to contact them and have a quick chat."

When Barrie first set up his Facebook page, he posted a notice that he was selling three bottles of wine for £10 and asked people to tell him where they saw the offer. "Only 11 people said that they saw the notice on Facebook, but I thought that was a great start," he says.

Building on this initial success, Barrie is now improving his page everyday - adding photographs of the store and updating visitors on any community projects that he's involved in. "It's good for keeping my customers aware of what's going on in the store. The Londis website does have some forum pages, but that excludes our customers from seeing what we're doing."

Facebook has identified the interest shown by retailers using the site for promotional purposes and has created applications that allow users to better highlight promotions.

"With our new applications, a retailer with a new promotion can pick and choose who they send messages to without any hassle," says Facebook head of inside sales Josh Smith. "For example, if a shop has cheap beers that they want to promote, they can send a message to just their friends that are male or under 25. It means that a retailer can hit their exact target market."

Another retailer who has embraced the technological revolution is Steve Bassett, who set up a Facebook page for his Londis store in Weymouth, Dorset, in June last year.

Says Steve: "A few of the local pubs started up a Facebook page and advertised events there. I saw it as a good way to reach my customers for free. It didn't take long to set up and it's attracted plenty of people."

One complaint Steve does have about his Facebook page is that he'd like more interaction from his customers. "I put up a notice for people to leave feedback for the page so I could see what they wanted from it. Unfortunately, nobody left anything. However, I did put some comments up when I decided to ban the sale of alcohol to under 20-year-olds and a few people left a message then, so it just takes some perseverance."

He plans to use his Facebook page to reward regular customers who visit his page. "I'd like to have a gift for all of my Facebook friends who come into the store. I'll have to iron out the details, but it'll be a case of mailing all of them to tell them to come in to get their gift."

Steve believes social media is the way forwards and urges other retailers to embrace the technological revolution. He says: "It doesn't cost anything and it's a great way to build up customer relations. People are always mentioning it in the store and it builds up a great community feel."

Besides promoting your store, social media websites may also help with security. When someone snuck into the back office of Barrie's store and tried to steal a laptop, his face was caught on CCTV. Although the would-be thief got away empty-handed, Barrie decided not to stand for it and posted the image on his Facebook page, asking his friends if they knew who the intruder was. "A lot of people came forward, saying that they recognised him, and if he comes into the store again we'll know who he is."

Barrie says he won't hesitate to post pictures of shoplifters again. "If anybody else comes in trying to steal, they'll be up on the page straight away."