MILWAUKEE — Kohl's online customers would like to get free shipping on all their purchases. And the right people at Kohl's know it.
That's because free shipping is a constant request from some of the retailer's 720,000-plus fans on Facebook.
In the six months since Kohl's Corp. made its debut on Facebook, the department store chain has amassed one of the largest fan bases among retailers, with 720,000-plus fans, and is part of a trend that has more and more consumer businesses using free social media Web sites.
"Social media is becoming the way you connect with your customer," said Bill Emerson, a former retail executive who heads Emerson Advisors in West Palm Beach, Fla. "Big retailers are getting on to this."
A new poll conducted by BIGresearch for Shop.org, a retail trade group, found that 47 percent of online retailers will increase their use of social media during the coming holiday season. More than half, 60 percent, said they had added or improved their Facebook page and Twitter pages this year.
Menomonee Falls, Wis.,-based Kohl's ranks third among retailers in the number of fans on Facebook, after Starbucks, with 4.6 million fans, and Best Buy, with about 843,000.
"Kohl's Facebook page gives our customers a place to interact, share stories and celebrate Kohl's great values and savings tools," said Vicki Shamion, vice president for public relations at Kohl's.
For the holiday season, Kohl's will change the look of its Facebook page to match its ad campaign. In addition, the company will place merchandise giveaways on popular consumer blogs.
Shoppers who sign on as fans on retail Web sites often express their love for the company. But many also use the sites to voice specific complaints.
Kohl's has a team in its marketing department assigned to monitor the site and respond to customers. In some cases, they deal with complaints, or agree to pass them on. Like this one from customer Cheryl Gordon:
"Dear Kohls — can you make your online shopping cart hold your contents for more than 5 minutes before auto-dumping it?... It's very discouraging when you spend 30 minutes or longer putting an order together, walk away for 5 minutes, come back to find your cart says $0. With a company this size, surely you have a techie that can extend the cart life to an hour, a day, or longer."
Allowing criticisms to remain on a company-sponsored Web page isn't a negative, Emerson said.
"Some research showed you do more business even with bad news than if you don't do anything," he said.
People who are unhappy about something a retailer did or failed to do will complain anyway, on personal Web sites, Emerson said. "The idea is you begin to harness some of that conversation and control it."
Best Buy is held up by social media experts as an example of how to use Facebook as a business tool. The Minneapolis-based electronics retailer has about 842,000 Facebook fans and has customer service staffers who are dedicated to responding to customers on the site.
"When social media started, retailers hoped it would be a way to sell," said Ellen Davis, a vice president for public relations at the National Retail Federation. But at the moment, most retailers are using it as a branding tool and a way to call out sales.
"The idea is you begin to harness some of that conversation and control it."