by Doug Desjardins
Retailers searching for new ways to reach consumers - especially younger shoppers - are tapping into social media sites to lure them online and into stores.
Nearly every major retailer this year is testing the waters with promotions on sites like Facebook and Twitter to market directly to consumers. The list includes mass merchants like Sears and Kmart and specialty retailers Staples and Toys "R" Us.
Sears launched its Black Friday VIP Sweepstakes on Nov. 10. It gives participants the chance to buy Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale items the day before Thanksgiving. In exchange for providing their name, email address and zip code on a link on the Sears Facebook page, customers are entered into a sweepstakes with prizes that include five $500 gift cards for participants in 25 metro areas for an in-store shopping spree the day before Thanksgiving.
"Facebook is a natural way for us to reach our loyal customers and fans to reward them with an exclusive opportunity and fun way to shop," Sears CMO Don Hamblen said in a statement. Sears said it had 146,000 Facebook fans signed up as of mid-November.
JC Penney is staging a similar sweepstakes with Facebook, giving away five, $500 gift cards along with a free limo ride to the store and the assistance of a personal shopper. And Wal-Mart, Target and Toys "R" Us are using their Facebook and Twitter pages to advertise limited time deals and specials.
Office supply giant Staples is using both Facebook and Twitter for its Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions. It's using the sites as an advertising vehicle for price cuts on products like laptops - including an HP Laptop with Windows 7 for $299 - and GPS systems that will be on sale the day after Thanksgiving and the following Monday. Sam's Club, Wal-Mart's warehouse retail division, is taking a different tack by giving customers email and cell phone alerts for a special early bird sale on 40 items that will be available for purchase online the night before Thanksgiving.
Linking ads to the two most popular social media sites was a gimmick that a handful of retailers tested in 2008 but it's quickly becoming a standard part of advertising, especially for the holidays. A survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) found that 47 percent of retailers will use social media to advertise during the holidays this year and more than 50 percent have added Facebook and Twitter pages or improved the sites they already had.