Sears has created its own social media site called mysears, which has more than a quarter million followers. Consumers can find out about deals and chat with others about products.
The retailer and its sister company Kmart also use Facebook, Twitter, myspace and YouTube. Mobile applications included a gift finder during the holiday season. Kmartdesign.com has documentary-style videos that teach consumers how to decorate the perfect Christmas tree or create a welcoming guest room.
"I would go so far as to say that social media is definitely connecting more people to sales," said Tom Aiello, a spokesman for Kmart and Sears. "It used to be that we had to have our message pass through some sort of media. Social media allows us to talk directly to our customers."
Bare Necessities, an undergarment store in Green Spring Station, has been using social media for about a year and has 800 followers on Facebook.
"It's just more specialized," said co-owner Lynn Fram. "Print advertising goes to a lot of people and everybody is reading the same thing and no one feels special. It makes you feel special when you're getting it on your own computer."
Marketing experts say social media should be part of a comprehensive strategy to promote retail businesses.
"If your only tactic is social media, then you're going to miss people," Goff said. "It has to be part of a mix. Social media takes those traditional advertising messages to a different level."
And for many consumers, that easy-to-reach, social approach is very appealing.
Lauren Vonbussenius, an assistant for a loan officer, said she's always on Facebook because "it's kind of obsessive when you're 21, right?"
While chatting with friends on Facebook, she also visits the pages of some of her favorite retailers, such as Bare Necessities and Cupcake Clothing in Fells Point, to see if they have sales or new merchandise.
"They always have something and it just makes me click it," she said. "I can't help myself."