June 12, 2008, 12:00 AM

Dell, Amazon, Sears using social networks to build customer relationships

Dell has developed Regeneration.org to build relationships with thousands of customers who share its concerns about protecting the environment, as other retailers interact with customers on Facebook and other social networks, speakers at IRCE 2008 said.

Dell Inc. has developed the social networking site Regeneration.org to build relationships with thousands of customers who share its concerns about protecting the environment, and Amazon.com Inc., Sears, Roebuck & Co. and other retailers are interacting with customers on Facebook and other social networks, speakers at IRCE 2008 said.

“Dell is committed to being green,” Sean McDonald, Dell’s director, global online, said during the IRCE session, “New Frontiers: Marketing and Merchandising on Social Sites.” To share that passion with like-minded consumers, the manufacturer and direct retailer of computers and consumer electronics developed Regeneration.org as a place where Dell and its customers can share information, including personal artwork and messages, related to environmental issues. The site is linked directly from promotional messages on Dell.com, and it includes a graphical promotion about Dell’s own Earth-friendly activities that takes visitors to Dell.com.

Regeneration.org has attracted thousands of consumers who have posted personal content, on which other site visitors can vote regarding the content’s value, McDonald said. When Dell posted the question, “What does green mean to you?” 7,900 people posted responses, and the responses attracted 1 million votes, he added.

The key to a successful social networking site is to make participation easy without too many restrictions on consumer-generated content, McDonald said. “It’s never about control-it’s about participation,” he said.

Social networking sites are becoming more popular with consumers, added Heather Dougherty, director of research for Internet traffic measurement firm Hitwise.

The average time per visit on a social networking site in the first week of May 2008 was 27 minutes, 33 seconds, up from 15 minutes, 40 seconds, the same week a year earlier, and retention rates are well above 75% on MySpace.com, Facebook.com, myYearbook.com, BlackPlanet.com and Bebo.com, Dougherty said.

Moreover, participation on social networks-once the turf primarily of consumers aged 18-24-has increased in recent years among consumers ranging in age from 25 to 55+, with a particularly strong presence of older consumers on Facebook.com, she added.

Several retailers are capitalizing on these trends to promote sales, Dougherty said. Sears, for example, enables social shopping for prom dresses on Facebook, enabling customers to share online comments about dress choices; Amazon also enables gift purchases through Facebook and Victoria’s Secret has attracted more than 350,000 fans to its Victoria’s Secret PINK page on Facebook, she added. The Victoria’s Secret PINK page on Facebook lets users download a widget to their Facebook page to share information on the brand’s products and link to online shopping pages.

Victoria`s Secret (Limited Brands Inc.) is No. 20 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; Amazon is No. 1, Dell is No. 4, and Sears is No. 8.

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