The UK's top 25 retailers have plenty of room for improvement in their social media and customer service strategies, with just 25% of those with a Twitter presence responding to customer questions through this channel. 

This is one of the findings of the Auros Are you serious about social? study, which looks at how the top 25 UK retailers responded to queries on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs.  

More highlights from the study after the jump...

Retailers on Twitter

20 of the top 25 retailers actually had an account on Twitter, which does at least show that they are beginning to see the importance of Twitter. It can be an effective customer service channel, allowing for swift responses to questions, and offering the ability to demonstrate to other users that they are listening to customers. 

The 25 companies followed in the report had an average of 69,000 followers, which shows that there is a decent level of customer interest. 

  • Despite the researchers actively engaging with the brand and asking questions, none of the retailers followed them back. This means customers can't get in touch to provide details to help get their problem sorted out, or to move the discussion to another channel. 
  • Only 25% of retailers with a Twitter account responded to a question directed at them. 
  • While 20% responded to negative comments which had been directed at them, compared with 10% that replied to positive ones
  • For those that replied the average response time was 94 minutes, which isn't bad. By comparison email response times were 10 hours on average, which says a lot about the quality of email service.
These results suggest that, though retailers are keen on a Twitter presence, they are yet to learn what users expect from them via this channel. That said, it should be very basic common sense (and good manners) to reply to a question posed directly at them.

Whether the question is positive or negative, this represents a missed opportunity to engage with customers, and also suggests that many brands are using Twitter as more of a push marketing channel. 


  • Fewer (72%) of the 25 retailers had a Facebook page, but the average number of fans was higher, at 258,000. 
  • Retailers responded to questions more promptly on Facebook, an average response time of 78 minutes, while 88% gave a helpful answer. 
  • When it came to responding to positive or negative comments, the figures were different. Just 17% responded to a positive comment on their wall, taking an average of 112 minutes to respond.
  • Just 11% of brands responded to a negative comment left on the wall. 

As with Twitter, there is plenty of room for improvement here, and again brands are missing opportunities to engage with customers. 


The study results suggest that retailers don't place much importance on YouTube as a social media channel, despite its massive audience and social functionality. 

  • Just three (12%) of the retailers studied had their own YouTube channel. 
  • These retailers had an average of 1,514 fans.
  • None responded to any comments left underneath videos. 


52% of retailers had a blog on their websites, and though the report found that some of the content on offer was good, none responded to questions and comments left underneath blog posts, and there seemed to be very little interaction with any other blog readers.

Graham Charlton

Published 8 April, 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 (12)

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Not surprising since social media doesn't drive direct sales for many types of industries. It's a great way of getting closer to your potential customers but if it doesn't translate into direct sales and profit it's difficult to justify the cost of keeping staff for maintaining Twitter and FB accounts.

over 7 years ago


Pete Austin, MarketingXD

OK, I'll bite. This is a marketing site, so I'll see if you follow your own advice.

Graham Charlton, what is your evidence for saying, "it should be very basic common sense (and good manners) to reply to a question posed directly at them"?

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Pete - my response time is at least faster than the average quoted in the report ;)

Apart from it being polite to at least respond to a customer question, if only to suggest they make contact a different way, it is good practice to deal with customer queries where customers ask them.

This will reduce the need for the customer to make contact elsewhere, it will reduce the risk of losing customers who have been denied a response. Also, if other users of social sites are likely to have more positive opinions about a brand that is not afraid to talk to people directly.

There is no specific stat I can pull out here, though there are a few case studies, but do you think customers that ask a direct question are happy to be ignored?

over 7 years ago

Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

Nice post as always, GC!

On the following-back issue: I don't think it's that important for brands to follow everyone back, though following regular-contacters back can be useful. I can't STAND it when people blindly follow everyone back by default though - as soon as you get over the 1,000 mark it makes Twitter a completely useless channel for learning, and essentially says to people "I'm only actually following you so you can DM me, I won't be reading what you have to say most of the time".

Call me old-fashioned though...

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Henry, that's an interesting question. I personally wouldn't follow everyone everyone back as it makes it impossible to read everyone's tweets.
Perhaps it's different for brands. For instance, would customers be put out if a retailer didn't follow them back?

over 7 years ago


Pete Austin, MarketingXD

Hi Graham,

You got me. I would have bet that you wouldn't reply!

I think a business should only offer a channel if they're going to run it properly. Doing a half-assed job harms your reputation. So I agree - you need to answer direct questions.

A problem occurs when customers ask legitimate questions which you can't answer. For example: when is the new version released? are you aware of a security hole? will there be a price cut this month? I think in these cases you can't reply and must have a standard non-answer prepared.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Pete,

I'm always checking!

I agree, there are issues around certain questions which customers could ask. I think in these cases, retailers need to have some sort of answer,or move the conversation elsewhere.

over 7 years ago


Peter Austin, MarketingXD

Changed my mind.

Small organizations and bloggers should act in line with your comments (and my original thought).

But I think the big retailers are right to do a poor job. This is because the opportunity costs of diverting marketers from their real jobs and having them engage with single customers is too high. They cannot afford the resurces to micro-manage social interactions in that way.

over 7 years ago

Tom Griffiths

Tom Griffiths, Digital Team Lead at Browser Media

Q: You there, sales person, what's your job title?
A: customer service representative

Q: Course it is. And where are your customers?
A: In front of me.

Q:What are they doing?
A: They're asking me a question. I'm hoping they buy something.

Q:What are you doing?
A: Ummm...ignoring them. Also, we've got the marketing guy in from head office and put him behind the till. He's telling the customers how great we are but he can't do Returns...

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Tom - nice comment!

@Peter- I find it hard to agree that ignoring customers and providing poor service is ever a good idea.

If retailers haven't the staff and resources to deal with this, they may be better off avoiding Twitter /FB altogether, or else making it crystal clear that the Twitter /Facebook account is not there to answer customer service questions.

Also, it doesn't have to be marketers handling Twitter accounts and being 'diverted from their real jobs' - why not have customer service staff answering questions on social media?

Besides, if other potential customers can see that a brand is answering customer's questions on social media, is this not a useful form of marketing?

I think the ASOS approach to Twitter is a great example. It has segmented the various functions into separate and clearly defined Twitter accounts; news, service updates, vacancies, brands, and customer service:!/ASOS_HeretoHelp

over 7 years ago


Ged Carroll

And the elephant in the room with the data is that many of them haven't dealt with the question about what they do once the have followers.

It will be interesting to see how the monetise their social platforms.

over 7 years ago


Robert Golledge, Head of Marketing at Amadeus Marketing UK Ltd

I agree that not all businesses are geared up to or even want to support customers via Social Media. But seeing as the nature of the beast is dialogue and interaction, you have to question what these businesses are doing on Twitter or Facebook in the first place if they're not interested in conversation.

Besides, if customers dictate that they want to use Social Media for support - smart businesses will listen and act accordingly. Whatever happened to 'the customer is king' concept? As long as a business can meet the needs of customers in a mutually beneficial and profitable way, they should not be ignoring newer channels which offer them great potential to build customer advocacy.

over 7 years ago

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