Walmart has 28 million Facebook fans.

"It's the biggest fan page in the United States," Kerry Lakin, a senior account manager for Facebook, told an audience of national retail executives and others in Tucson Friday at the University of Arizona's Global Retailing Conference.

"That's more fans than Facebook has," Lakin said.

Building relationships with customers through social-media platforms was a hot topic Friday at the retailing conference at Loews Ventana Canyon, where fashion designer Tory Burch also spoke.

The event is put on annually by the UA's Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, which is named for Macy's Inc.'s CEO, president and chairman, who is a UA alum.

Here are some of the highlights of Friday's presentations:


Wanda Young, vice president of media and digital marketing for Walmart Stores, showed slides of mothers with their children, taken directly from Walmart's fan page on Facebook. "When we think about connecting with customers, we think of these moments. We are in the lives of our customers," she said.

Young stressed the importance of changing the focus from merchandising, sales and numbers to people.

Word of mouth and engagement works better than any other form of advertising, Young said: "It creates a system of trust."

That's what Facebook does for the chain. "Every person in the U.S. is connected to at least one fan of Walmart on Facebook," Young said.

Walmart constantly updates its Facebook feed, and created pages for each Walmart across the nation, so customers could see what was going on at their local stores. For Tucson, that means posts about the University of Arizona during March Madness, for instance.

Walmart's marketing team asks questions to engage its customers on Facebook, and uses the answers to change the way it does business.

For example, two years ago, Walmart customers said on Facebook that they wanted layaway. So Walmart brought layaway back to its stores.

"Retail has always been social," said Lakin, the Facebook senior account manager who was a co-presenter with Young at the conference. But consumer behavior has fundamentally changed. People are connected almost 24 hours a day.

Lakin said researchers found 80 percent of smartphone users reach for their phones within 15 minutes of waking up and most people have their phones with them 22 hours a day.

"When you are in the news feed, you are in the palm of a customer's hand," Lakin said.

Mobile and real-time marketing are becoming essential tools, keeping consumers updated on changes as they happen and answering questions as they appear in their news feed.

"Winning retailers will be the ones who are best at it," Lakin said.

Tory Burch LLC

Tory Burch is known for her success in the fashion industry and the foundation she created to help women entrepreneurs.

Burch, a designer, company founder and CEO, spoke about patience in growing a global brand. She compared it to playing tennis. "Focus on the game, wait for your shot and be patient," she said.

Her company waits for the right opportunity to expand. "Risk is a big part," she said. "But thoughtful and deliberate patience is the path to growth."

Among Burch's first influences in fashion were her parents. She said her father had impeccable style, and her mother was always chic and understated.

"Fashion is part of my DNA," Burch said.

Burch's first store opened in 2004, and hers has since become a global company. There are now 83 free-standing stores around the world, and Tory Burch products are available in more than 1,000 retail stores.

The company continues to grow, and plans to open 20 to 25 more stores globally this year.

As with other businesses, online is a key component and source of significant revenue for Tory Burch LLC.

Burch said her largest store is, which gives access to the brand where no retail stores are available.

"Social media is crucial," Burch said. "It gives us a window as to what's working and what's not."

For example, Burch said she posted an Instagram photo of herself wearing a dress she had designed. There was so much positive feedback on the Instagram photo that the company reissued the dress, and it sold out almost instantly.

Burch credits her company's success to asking the tough questions, not rushing into anything, believing in what she's doing and balancing work and family life.

Young women attending the retailing conference said they look to Burch as a role model.

"Tory is such an inspiration," UA retail and consumer sciences student Amanda Sassone said. "I'm drawn to her because of her leadership skills."

Innovative thinking is another draw for Callie Rose Bailey, a UA student. "The things she has to say are fresh," she said. "Especially not fearing to say no. Saying yes can get us into trouble."

Advice to Students

Burch offered the following advice to the UA students who came to hear her speak:

• Even if you do not start in the perfect job right away, it will help shape you. It will enrich your experience.

• Negativity is noise. Believe in what you are doing.

• Expect to work hard.

• Have a unique idea and put time, energy and hard work into it.

• Try to hire people who are better and smarter than you. Do not be afraid of it. The right team is critical.

• Stay true to your identity.

• Don't be afraid to say no.

Contact reporter Angela Pittenger at or 573-4137.