The Co-operative Group is planning a renewed membership push next month to attract Somerfield shoppers to its dividend scheme.

The society will relaunch its membership website on 25 March. The site is being built around a 'virtual community' concept, enabling members to talk directly to other members.

The site would be getting "a brand new look", wrote membership officer for online Yvonne Batten on the society's new social networking site Hive.

The networking site, www.hive.coop, was launched earlier this month and will replace the discussion area currently being used on the existing membership site.

"We want a conversation with our members and customers, to talk about campaigns, ethics, products, values and principles, co-operation and what co-operative membership means to them," wrote Batten.

An improved event management system will also be added to the new site to improve webcasts of member meetings.

The Co-op Group now has more than 4.5 million members and in the run-up to Christmas offered its first-ever triple dividend and made the scheme available in Somerfield stores for the first time. It is also advertising membership in Somerfield stores and has added banners and links on the Somerfield website.

The Co-op Group is facing increased pressure from Sainsbury's and Tesco. Tesco has extended its double points offer and is promoting its 'Clubcard millionaires', while Sainsbury's claims Nectar now has 16.8 million users more than any other UK loyalty scheme.