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Social media drives just 3% of visits to retail websites in the UK, but is this because many retailers aren't using this channel effectively? 

For its Social Media Marketing Report, ForeSee Results surveyed almost 10,000 visitors to the UK's top 40 websites (by traffic volume, as defined by IMRG and Hitwise) to determine what led them to visit the website. 

While I wouldn't argue with the point that retailers shouldn't abandon tried and tested online marketing techniques, social media is still a relatively new medium and retailers still have plenty of room for improvement. 

ForeSee asked respondents what the primary influence on their visit to a retailer's website was, and the top result (with 46%) was brand familiarity, followed by search engines (13%). 

ForeSee chart 1 small

Just 3% said social media influenced their visit, though you could argue that the 1% from blogs should be added to that figure. 

One thing these stats also don't tell us is the kind of journey that the customer may have made before visiting the website. There are plenty of paths to a website that customers may have taken which include some kind of social media or other influence.

For example, customers may see a new offer or product from a retailer they follow on Facebook, and then head for the website later via a search engine. 

The next chart looks into the figures in more detail. Here's a larger version of it. 

ForeSee chart 3 small

While the figures for satisfaction and likelihood to purchase and recommend were highest for brand familiarity and emails, they were also strong for recommendations from friends on social media and ads on social networks. 

ForeSee is correct in its assertion that retailers shouldn't discard proven online marketing techniques in favour of social media, though I don't think any retailers are planning to do so. 

Another issue here is which of the top 40 retail websites in the UK are actually running effective social media campaigns. Social media is a relatively new marketing medium and many brands are still finding their way. 

For example, while Boots is one of the retailers in the top 40, yet I can find no Facebook or Twitter accounts for the company, while John Lewis only recently created a Facebook page. With just 21,000 followers (so far), this is unlikely to drive significant volumes of traffic at the moment.

By contrast, retailers that have worked hard on their social media marketing can get much more than 3% of traffic from social media. Just from Facebook and Twitter alone, ASOS gets more than double the 3% figure in this survey

If you look at the retailer's Facebook and Twitter accounts, it's not hard to see why. It has 438,000 'friends' on Facebook, provides regular updates, and now even sells on the site. On Twitter it has 77,000 followers on its official account, but also has separate accounts for things like discounts and customer service. 

Retailers shouldn't allow these figures to discourage them from using social media, there are after all plenty of success stories of retailers driving sales via social media, Dell being perhaps the most famous example.

Instead, retailers could look at how they can do more to make their presence on sites like Facebook more effective and, as the report says, 'make sure that interactions on social media meet the needs and expectations of customers'. 

To download ForeSee's Social Media Marketing Report, you can register here

Graham Charlton

Published 3 February, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (9)

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Mikko Rummukainen

Thank you for sharing these results!

I can't say I am entirely surprised about the small percentage, when one thinks of the longer lifetime of and familiarity with other types of traffic drivers (such as online ads, SEM, email).

Also, quite a few social media landing sites do not succeed very well in driving traffic outside of, for example, a Facebook Page. More often than not there is only content created for just that landing, and sometimes the design keeps users on these sites than directs them to e-commerce sites.

However, I am sure that quite a few social media solutions done so far will get overhauled during this year once brands get more familiar with their options, and the same figure for next year will quite probably show an entirely different margin for social media.

over 5 years ago

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Jordan McClements

If 3% of traffic was influenced by social media, what percentage of actual sales was directly attributable to social media?

over 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Jordan - a good question, and one the report doesn't answer I'm afraid.

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

If you add up 'message from friend on social network', blogs/forums, YouTube, reviews websites, 'message from brand on social network', and ads on social network, then you get 6% for what could be termed 'social media'. And that's more than the 4% for other online advertising. Also, 'word of mouth' is interesting, as a portion of that is likely to have come from some form of social network. As for 'familiarity with the brand' at 46%, don't we need to drill a bit deeper into what generated that familiarity?

I'm not saying the research is totally off, but it does seem like the 3% figure could be misleading.

Finally, do we look at this as a sign that social media is not as effective as search or email, or more that the top UK retailers are not very active in social media?

over 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Adam,
I think it tells you that plenty of the top 40 are not very active in social media as yet, or that they could do better.

However, the % of traffic is less important than the number of sales through social media for these retailers. That's a stat I'd like to see.

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

Sure. But even terms like "sales through social media" can be a bit misleading, as I think the true power of social is around brand awareness, reputation and education. We need to be careful not to just measure click paths.

over 5 years ago

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Tim Parrack

Why is this a surprise? Advertising and Internet advertising are only 8% and 5% respectively, and how much do these brands invest on these, relative to Social Media?

over 5 years ago

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Lindsay Hopkins

Social media is often referred to as attraction marketing, where potential customers engage, communicate, participate and learn away from branded websites. It's not (social media) a platform to sell products and services, though some blatantly do, but an opportunity to build brand awareness in a way our customers can enjoy.

A recent report claimed that it takes the average business (who manage their social media in-house) 2 years to become confident with their online campaigns, so I'm not at all surprised that only 3% of traffic is currently being driven this way. But that's not to say it doesn't work.

We only have to look at Starbucks, Lacto, Ford etc to see why their social media campaigns are so successful. They communicate with their customers in such a way consumers become evangelists and everybody’s happy!

Social media in the UK has a long way to go, but I’m convinced there’s a future for it.

over 5 years ago

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Cido Lopez

Excellent information. Will you help me get the right paths!

almost 4 years ago

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