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Are consumers following retailers to social networks?


The current economy poses many challenges for marketers and retailers. A Yankelovich Partners study (2005) found almost sixty percent of US customers find marketing to be irrelevant for them personally, and seventy percent are interested in products and services that would help block marketing attempts. Somewhat ironically, the same study also found that customers respond more favorably to marketing when they have control. Consumers are happier being a part of community, rather than the target of a marketing campaign (Cocheo, 2009). Consumers are more likely to buy something that is recommended to them, rather than when it is "marketed" to them; this is even more likely when the recommendation comes from someone that they trust.

Nielsen (2009) reported that global online video has grown 339% since 2003 and time spent viewing has increased almost 2000% In addition to the growth in the use of video, the number of online social media users has grown 87% since 2003, and the time spent on these sites has increased 883%. In the last year alone, (2008) time spent on social networking sites increased 73%. A large percentage (85%) of social media networking users want companies to interact with them using social media applications (Nail, 2009). A 2006 comScore Media Metrix report (Trusov, Bucklin, & Pauwels, 2009) indicated every second, online users in the US had visited at least one of the top fifteen social networking sites, and that approximately fifty social networking sites each had more than one million registered users. In 2007 Oser and Adepiju reported that 37 percent of the US adult internet population and 70 percent of teens used online social networking at least once per month. Predictions show that the total US social networking audience will grow to 105 million in 2011. According to Neilsen Online (2009) research, use of social networks and blogs is now the fourth most popular online category. Alex Burmaster, of Neilsen Online, stated "social networking is not just growing rapidly, it's evolving in terms of a broader audience, and compelling in functionality." One-third of Internet users report comments by consumers provided on the social media sites have been influential when they make a purchase decision, (Deatsch, 2009a), but just 11% considered advertising to be as effective. During the past year, almost half of Americans had consulted social media while shopping, and more than one-third, (37%), had done so in the past three months.

Based upon the usage rate and statistics, there is no question that retailers are quickly incorporating the use of social networking sites into their marketing communication strategy. The use of these sites became even more advantageous as many retailers implemented the benefits of the sites' applications during the holiday season in an effort to generate revenue during this struggling economy. Many have recognized that social networking is about linking people with common interests. Companies such as American Eagle, Gap,, Victoria's Secret, Macy's and Nike have experimented and/or incorporated the use of social networking, (Reda, 2008). The challenge for companies is learning how to use social networks to the greatest benefit. Many retailers used such social networking sites as, discussed later, to utilize an application that the network labels "events". Retailers such as JCPenney and Macy's, created events to encourage customers to visit their online as well as brick-and-mortar sites in order to take advantage of special promotions and sales during a specified period of time.

Results of research conducted by a team of Fellows of the Society for New Communication Research (Barnes, Cass, Getgood, Gillin, & Goosieaux, 2008) found evidence to support the significance of social networking to current promotional mix decisions. Consumers 25-55 years old, college-educated, and earning $100,000 or more are among the most savvy and sought after consumers. The same group is using social media to research companies when making purchase decisions. While the economy has changed the way consumers shop, and how they spend, what has not changed is that consumers trust the opinions of friends and family, as well as people they do not know, usually more than anything the retailer has to say about the company or their products. Galeotti and Goyal (2009) purport that companies who use social media networking see higher sales and greater profits. Furthermore, Harridge-March and Quinton (2009) suggest that not only does social media networking allow for communications between consumers, but also allow retailers to develop a relationship with their customers, and therefore reduce churn. According to Mark Brohan (2009), while the economic downturn showed that online retailers were not immune to slumping sales, online sales grew by only a single digit rate last year. However, consumers remain loyal to online shopping, and as such, social media marketing provides an opportunity for retailers to develop a communication mix that is less costly, and reach consumers via a channel they want. The challenge for retailers is to identify how this digital word of mouth influences, as well as who the influencers are.


Internet Retailer's 2009 Top 500 Guide (GettingSocial, 2009) devoted an introduction to this year's report on the prevalence of online retailers' participation and use of social media networks. Approximately three-fourths of the Top 500 retailers had a presence on at least one social network by early April 2009. Facebook was the most popular, 57% participating; 41% having posted a video or commercial on YouTube; 29% were on MySpace, while 20% were linked to followers in Twitter. Finally, 10% were on the social shopping site, Kaboodle.


Owyang (2008) reported that more than 120 million active users made Facebook the fourth most-trafficked website in the world. It is visited by 3 in 10 people monthly ("Two-thirds of the global online population visit social networks and blogs," 2009) and has more than 75 million members in more than 80 countries (Leader-Chivee, Hamilton, & Cowan, 2008). Facebook reports that there are more than 28 million pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc) shared each month. With this level of activity, it is no surprise that a recent study of social media ("Social Media Study Shows 59 Percent of Retailers Now Using Facebook ", 2009) found that up to 59% (59 of leading 100) of retailers are now using Facebook through the use of fan pages. These retailers have recognized the need to focus on what customers are looking for on a site, what the company wants to communicate, and the role the fan page can play in communicating their message. The actual number of retailers on Facebook doubled in only five months (Wagner, 2009). The 2009 Internet Retailer's Top 500 Guide shows that 56.8% of all retailers, or 284 companies, had a presence on the social networking site, including 70 of the top 100 ("More than half of 2009 Top 500 e-retailers have a presence on Facebook," 2009).


Kaboodle was launched in 2005 when Manish Chandra and his wife grew frustrated trying to buy home improvement products (2009). Because they believed shopping is a social process, the social shopping site Kaboodle was developed, where consumers can find, recommend and share products, sources for products, and other relative shopping experiences. As of fall 2009, Kaboodle has over 14 million monthly visitors, and 900,000 registered users, who had added 10 million products to the site. In mid-year 2006, Kaboodle simplified the process of adding products to the website by creating an "Add to Kaboodle Wish List" button for retailers to add to their respective web sites. Kaboodle launched a holiday portal in 2008, Holiday Kit 'n Kaboodle (O'Grady, 2008). During the 2008 holiday season, Kaboodle boasted more than 260,000 vendors, and was considered one of the top 25 Networking media companies.


MySpace is a regular destination of approximately 55% of teens (Maughan, 2007) and links 100 million users in more than 20 countries (Leader-Chivee, et al., 2008). As more young people choose online communication and social media, they want to share via text messaging, email, and now social networks like MySpace, the things that are important to them and their friends. According to Jeff Berman, (Newman, 2008) president of sales and marketing for MySpace, TJ Maxx and Target have reached consumers effectively, based on an expressed interest in fashion or a specific genre of music. These applications provided increases of up to 300% when compared to standard demographic targeting. Another example of company response to effectiveness of social media is Wet Seal's addition of a community when it noticed 15% of its traffic was coming directly from MySpace (Deatsch, 2009a).

While MySpace has been the largest social networking site with regard to ad spending, things have changed drastically in the past few months (Williamson, 2009). From October 2008 to March 2009, traffic fell 8%, to 70.1 million people, while Facebook's unique visitor numbers grew 33%. Current indicators suggest Facebook is poised to replace MySpace, however, demographic differences may be substantial enough on MySpace for more targeted strategies to remain effective for some retailers. By December 2009 ("MySpace Tumbles from the Top," 2010), Facebook had garnered 47% of the social media market share, while MySpace fell to just 18%.


Twitter attracted 14 million unique visitors in March, 2009, compared to only 1.1 million a year earlier (Deatsch, 2009b). This social medium has exploded so quickly that online retailers have just begun to consider how this medium could be used effectively to communicate with millions of potential customers. The key to making Twitter effective for a retailer is to get users to sign up and "follow" the retailer. Retailers must learn how to entice these followers by creating a 140-character statement that will be displayed on the retailer's Twitter page. In order to make Twitter a more successful tool for retailers, the website has introduced a guide to doing business online ( Thus, updates on popular products, special sales or discount offers might turn low volume Twitter traffic into a high-value communication channel. For example, reports a conversion rate 15% higher than average, and order size that is 20% above average. This site had 100,000 unique monthly visitors generating about $1 million in sales during 2008. Twitter Tweeters comprise about 8% of the US online population (Bernoff, 2010), while another 4 percent are considered to be lurkers. More importantly, a significant proportion (95%) of Tweeters are members of other social networks such as Facebook. BestBuy has established the Twelpforce for customer and technical support, not to generate sales, and it is has been very effective to date.

Dell began using Twitter in March of 2007, and now has more than 11,000 followers. While most social network participation is about brand-building, Dell has effectively used Twitter to generate sales and revenue (Williamson, 2009). By using Twitter-only promotions, Dell reports more than $1 million in sales over the past two years from the network (Wagner, 2009). While the original intent was not to generate immediate sales, this social network has proven to be a financial boost, as well as providing Dell the opportunity to be part of consumer conversations. Dell's strategy has been to be upfront about the purpose of the Twitter account. It is important to get consumers' interest before hitting them with marketing messages. Thus, it is important to follow what is being said about the company. On Twitter, they can offer consumers advice and generate good will, along with generating publicity.


Reda (2008) found YouTube participants to be engaged, capable of influencing purchases of others, and seeking online opportunities that offer rich entertaining experiences. Users of the social networking sites actually control and determine what is the most popular. Jones (Jones, 2009) found YouTube to have about 258 million users logging in weekly. According to the YouTube site, the average user base is broad in age range, 18-55, evenly divided between males and females, and spanning all geographies. With such a large and diverse user base, YouTube offers something for everyone (YouTube, 2009). Internet Retailer reports 41% of top e-retailers have placed a video on YouTube or are mentioned in a video posted by users ("More than half of 2009 Top 500 e-retailers have a presence on Facebook," 2009). Sonia (Sonia, 2007) reported online video through social media sites such as YouTube as the most used social networking tool (65%).


It seems that we are becoming a nation of social media users (Patel, 2010), with 80% of online users reporting they had visited a social site, and 59% calling themselves active social network users. The search for information about new products, sales and discounts are the primary reasons people follow brands, retailers, consumer packaged goods and technology. Almost half (46%) of social media users had recommended or talked about a product or brand on Facebook, and a similar number (44%) had done so on Twitter (Palmer, 2009). A third of social media users thought social networks were a good place to seek company and product information. More than one fourth (27%) indicated they were receptive to invitations to events, special offers or promotions received through social media sites. Given the state of the economy during late 2009, the researchers were particularly interested in investigating just how successful retailers might be employing social media marketing (SMM) in their marketing communication strategy, during the all-important holiday season. Based upon the previous review of literature and social media discussion, the following research questions were developed:

1 What top retailers used social media during the Holiday 2009 season?

2 Which of the prominent social media networks did top retailers employ during the Holiday 2009 season?

3 Which top retailers employed multiple social media networks in their Holiday 2009 marketing activities?

4 Did multi-channel retailers use multiple social media networks?

5 Did the social media network employed by top retailers differ based upon the merchandise category sold by the retailer?

6 Did top retailers increase activities or events on the social media networks as the Holiday 2009 season progresses?


Four sources of top-rated retailers were used to identify the companies to review: Retailer's Top 500 Guide, Stores' Top 100, Hot 100 and Favorite 50 lists. The retailers that appeared on each of these four lists included: Amazon Inc., Apple Inc., Barnes &, Best Buy Co., CVS Corporation, Dell Inc., Gap Inc. Direct, Home Depot Inc., JCPenney Company, Staples Inc., Target Corporation, and These 18 retailers were reviewed for participation on each of the five social media networks. Five social media networks were identified as the most prominent in the current retailing literature: Facebook, Kaboodle, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube. Means to measure the degree of participation or consumer involvement with a retailer on each of the social media networks varied across the different social media:

* Facebook included the number fans, discussions, notes, and events

* Kaboodle measures included fans, comments, products, and promotions

* MySpace included friends and comments

* Twitter included followers and tweets

* YouTube measures included views and subscribers

Counts for each of the above measures were taken weekly from the first week of September, 2009 through the first week of January 2010, for each of the 18 retailers on the respective social networks where they had presence.


All of the 18 retailers had a presence of Facebook. Only two, JCPenney and Macy's participated on Kaboodle. Three retailers had a presence on MySpace, Dell, Kohl's, and Lowe's. Best Buy, Dell, Home Depot, JCPenney, QVC, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart posted on Twitter. Finally 10 of the 18 retailers had a presence on YouTube. These were: Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, JCPenney, Lowe's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, QVC, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart. (Table 1)

* Retailers present on only one social media network: Facebook--Amazon, Apple, CVS, Gap, and Staples.

* Kaboodle: Macy's and JCPenney

* MySpace: Dell, Kohl's, and Lowe's

* Twitter: Best Buy, Dell, Home Depot, JCPenney, Lowe's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, QVC, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart

* YouTube: Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, JCPenney, Lowe's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, QVC, Sears, Target, and Wal-Mart

Distribution across multiple social networks for individual retailers:

* Dell: Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter

* Home Depot, QVC and Wal-Mart: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

* Macy's: Facebook, Kaboodle, and YouTube

* JCPenney: Facebook, Kaboodle, Twitter, and YouTube


Only two of the eighteen retailers researched were active users of Kaboodle: JCPenney and Macy's. The researchers expected to see an increase in usage during the period tracked for the selected retailers who utilized Kaboodle. The number of fans for each retailer ranged from 10,000 for JC Penney the first week, and almost 15,000 for Macy's, to 17,000 the last week for JC Penney, and 21,400 for Macy's at the conclusion of the review period. A positive percentage change was found in the number of fans for each retailer during the time surveyed. JCPenney increased the number of Kaboodle fans throughout the course of the research by 71.5%, while Macy's noted an increase of 44.7%. There was only one event, week 16, the week of Christmas, by JC Penney. The number of products actually declined for JC Penney and remained fairly constant for Macy's during the entire 18 week review period. Only the future will tell if this social shopping network truly takes hold with US retailers and shoppers alike. Table 2 shows the level of activity for the two retailers on Kaboodle during the review period. Overall, the lack of retailers present on Kaboodle precluded further examination of this social network.


The downward spiral of MySpace's popularity was evidenced in data collected from MySpace activities. The researchers tracked such MySpace elements as friends and friend comments. Only three of the eighteen retailers had a presence on MySpace. As evidenced in Table 4, Dell had garnered more than 10,000 fans on MySpace, while Lowe's had approximate 1,200 fans, and Kohl's slightly less than 150 fans. Other than Dell, these numbers would be of no significance in generating significant sales impact. All the retailers saw a decrease in friends and friend comments throughout the course of the study. Dell noted a 0.01% decrease in their amount of MySpace friends and a 3.8% decrease in the number of friend comments. Kohl's Department Stores suffered the same decrease in MySpace friends, by losing 4.1%. Lowe's saw a 5.6% decrease in MySpace friends and a 3.0% decrease in comments. These results support the current literature indicating that MySpace is falling out of favor with social networkers, and other social media are taking hold in the market share. While there were only three of the selected retailers with a presence on MySpace, it is also evident these retailers were not attempting to build activity on this social network. Table 3 provides individual data trends for these three retailers on MySpace.


Among the 18 retailers, seven had a presence on Twitter. Followers and tweets were recorded weekly. From week-to-week, most of the retailers saw an increase in both their followers and tweets as the 2009 holiday season neared. Significant differences in the number of followers and tweets are evidenced across the retailers in Table 4. By far, Dell stands out from the group with over 1 million followers. However, the number of tweets for Dell was rather low, 6-800 during the entire review period. This when compared to Home Depot, which in week 3 garnered 13,000+ followers, and tweets jumped to almost 2,500, Dell's level of actual activity remained basically steady. Best Buy and QVC showed increases in both followers and tweets as the holiday season progressed. Best Buy showed 103.2% increase (from September to January) in followers and a 68.9% increase in tweets. Best Buy employed Twitter to promoted current sales and upcoming new product releases to drive consumers to their online and brick-and-mortar sites. One stand-out statistic is the 209% increase in tweets for QVC. JC Penney posted a 149% increase in Twitter followers, and a 27% increase in tweets. WalMart also showed a significant increase, 259% in followers but tweets actually declined by 81%. More modest gains were demonstrated by Sears with a 92% increase in followers and 58% increase in the number of tweets.


The researchers tracked each retailer's views and subscriptions on their respective YouTube page. Of the 18 retailers observed during the time span of September to January, ten utilized YouTube in some manner. As presented in Table 5, the most substantial increase was JCPenney as their views increased by 293% and subscribers rose by 44.%. JCPenney took advantage of YouTube by posting videos to promote special promotions such as their partnership with Rascal Flatts and their American Living Unstoppable tour (American Living is a JCPenney clothing brand line). The video reported on the surprise visit of the popular country band to a New Jersey store location. Other videos included promotions of new products, as well as style experts explaining what is new and what is popular now. Macy's posted a 147% increase in YouTube views, and an amazing 1225% increase in subscribers. This substantial increase might be attributed to videos posted on Macy's YouTube promoting their Believe campaign. Such videos included a 31 second clip that summarized the goals of Macy's popular Believe campaign with a little girl making the trip from her home to her local Macy's store to deposit her letter with the help of Queen Latifah. The retailer also created and posted a caption under the video that further explained Macy's support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation[R]. Macy's committed to donating $1 for every letter that was deposited in Macy's Santa Mail, up to $1 million. This video alone received 5,918 views on Macy's YouTube site. It should be noted however, the overall numbers for Macy's were quite small, when compared to other retailers, as Macy's had less than 5,000 views and just slightly more than 100 subscribers the final week of review. The actual numbers of views for Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears were relatively impressive--ranging from more than 200,000 to slightly less than half a million. WalMart posted an impressive 17+ million views during the period, and about 1,500 subscribers, both numbers remaining fairly constant through the eighteen weeks. Tables 6A and 6B provide the raw data numbers for each of the retailers on YouTube discussed, while Table 2 presents the percentage changes for each retailer on YouTube.


The results of the research showed a positive percentage change for each tracked month in the number of Facebook fans for all retailers (Table 6). The four retailers with the greatest increase on Facebook were: Neiman Marcus, 628% increase, Sears, 532% increase, Wal-Mart with a fan increase of 556.8%, and CVS with a 495% change from September to December. Three other retailers also showed relatively large percentage changes during the review period: Macy's with a 320% increase, Staples a 170% increase, Barnes and Noble with a 127% increase, Home Depot an increase of almost 118%, and Dell with an increase of 112%.

Amazon, Apple, CVS, Gap and Staples employed only Facebook during the review period. Amazon, Apple and Staples had no events, and minimal discussions or notes. The Gap however, did engage consumers with events. CVS and Staples showed large increases in fans, almost 500% for CVS and 170% for Staples, even though they posted no special events (Table 7). CVS and friends took advantage of the discussions application of the CVS Facebook fan page. Such discussions included topics that concerned consumers. For example, one customer discussed her trouble with being overcharged for an online order before Christmas. She reported that the retailer had charged her debit card for the amount purchased four times. When she called a customer service hotline, she was informed that this had happened to nearly 2,000 other customers as well. These discussions allow consumers the opportunity to "vent" or be heard, and it allows the retailer to listen to customer concerns and to make changes where necessary. All this leads to better customer satisfaction and a better company-consumer relationship. Staples' Facebook page includes many unique tabs that can be accessed by Staples' fans. These tabs include an application called "I Shred U!", where fans can upload pictures and virtually shred them. Other tabs include a "News" tab that informs all fans of their newest products and offers links to videos that shows the consumer how these products work. Fans can also download their own "Easy Button[R]" (a trademark of Staples) that will appear on their computer's desktop. The "Extras" tab of the Staples Facebook page educates fans about Staples programs, including EcoEasy (Staples effort to be environmentally friendly by offering consumers a variety of eco-preferable products and and Staples Foundation for Learning[R] (a program that provides job skills and educational opportunities for everyone, especially disadvantaged These exclusive tabs give Staples an advantage on Facebook and provide fans much more than the typical retailer. This appears to be an effective means of segmenting and targeting Facebook applications to be more relevant for consumers. Furthermore, those merchants with greater than 100% increase in Facebook included: Barnes & Noble, Dell, Home Depot, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, QVC, Sears and WalMart. However, there is no correlation between the number of events posted by the retailers, to the percentage increase in the fan base. Barnes and Noble, Dell and Home Depot all had slightly more than a 100% increase in fans. Macy's and QVC increased their fan base more than 300%, and Neiman Marcus, Sears, and WalMart increased by more than 500%. It appears apparel and multi-line retailers reaped the benefits of increased fan base on Facebook.

Neiman Marcus also utilized their Facebook status by updating it on a regular basis to inform customers of upcoming sales. On December 17, 2009, Neiman Marcus's status read,

"ONLINE ONLY through December 20. Save 25% off your online purchase of four+ items from our Little Gems boutique. Click for details and start saving now!"

This status did a great job of directing customers to go to the online site. Sears also used the status on their Facebook page to communicate with their customers. Sears was very effective getting customers to become involved on their Facebook page by posting a question as their status and letting their customers to respond. This will eventually help to create a strong relationship between Sears and its customers, the prime object of social media networking for retailers. On December 22, 2009 Sears' status read,

"You told us some of your favorite baked treats for Christmas, we decided to offer you an easier way to make them! Today only, until midnight, we're offering exclusively to our Facebook fans, a Hamilton Beach stand mixer for the low price of $145.79. Check it out in the Exclusives tab."

This offer to Facebook fans only demonstrated how Sears valued their fans on Facebook. This entices more and more consumers to join the retailer's fan page. The use of Facebook status for these three retailers, is believed by the research to be the reason for the large increases that were noticed in the population of fans on these retailers' respective fan pages. In order to have a successful Facebook page, retailers should take some advice from these retailers and use their Facebook status to communicate with their customers and create a strong relationship.

Wal-Mart's success can also be attributed to their use of Facebook status. Wal-Mart updates their status frequently to let fans know what is going on, and invite them to take advantage of upcoming promotions. On December 23, 2009, Wal-Mart's status read,

"Look what fell out of Santa's sleigh - more holiday savings! Whether you're looking for the perfect last-minute gift or the makings of a delicious holiday meal, we've got you covered."

Even though Wal-Mart is a huge corporation, it has learned how to relate to consumers, as this status is extremely inviting and does a great job of encouraging shoppers to use Wal-Mart for their holiday needs. Customers have the ability to respond to this status by commenting. Their December 23rd status generated 115 comments from Wal-Mart's Facebook fans. Such comments included:

"Wal-Mart's prices are dropping all the time.." and "... I wish they brought back layaway.."

Again these statements indicate that Wal-Mart was doing a good job of reaching customers by updating their status. Clearly, Facebook is the most popular social media platform for both retailers reviewed in this study, and their respective consumer fans.


The purpose of this paper was to answer six questions posed by the researchers. Now let us examine the answers to each of the reseach questions posed in this paper.

Question 1: What top retailers used social media during the Holiday 2009 season? The answer to this question is that all of the eighteen retailers identified participated in at least one social media network.

Question 2: Which of the prominent social media networks did top retailers employ during the Holiday 2009 season? Primarily Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. There was extremely limited use of MySpace (3 retailers) and Kaboodle (2 retailers).

Question 3: Which top retailers employed multiple social media networks in their Holiday 2009 marketing activities? Barnes & Noble, BestBuy, Dell, Home Depot, JC Penney, Kohl's, Lowe's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, QVC, Sears, Target and WalMart all employed more than one social network. In other words, only five of the retailers Amazon, Apple, CVS, Gap, and Staples used a single social network: Facebook.

Question 4: Did multi-channel retailers use multiple social media networks? The answer to this question is yes. Furthermore, Amazon, the one online-only retailer was one of those using only Facebook.

Question 5: Did the social media network employed by top retailers differ based upon the merchandise category sold by the retailer? The answer is yes, but that is a qualified yes, in some cases. Only department stores: JC Penney and Macy's participated on Kaboodle. It also appears that department stores, discount stores, and home improvement retailers were more likely to have a presence on YouTube.

Question 6: Did top retailers increase activities or events on the social media networks as the Holiday 2009 season progresses? The answer is again a qualified yes, for some of the retailers. Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Gap, Home Depot, JC Penney, Kohl's, and Macy's showed an increase in the number of events they posted/held on Facebook. Other social media data collected did not show an increase in the number of promotional activities by the individual retailers, rather the increases were in the number of consumers who signed in as fans, followers, subscribers, or viewers on the individual retailers' respective social networks. Results across the different social media networks is presented in Table 7.


To summarize these results and findings, it appears evident that as the Holiday 2009 season progressed, consumers increased they participation on social media, and for some retailers this appears to have helped boost their seasonal sales. However, these top retailers seemed to focus their attention on Facebook, with some activities on YouTube. Facebook has been embraced by retailers and consumers alike. Greater affinity, or familiarity with this social network may be why both groups show higher levels of activity on Facebook. The less familiar Kaboodle has yet to take hold with retailers and consumers alike. Viral video of any kind lends itself to the YouTube platform, so for any visually enhanced promotion, this network may be effective, but not necessarily for everyone. The fact that Twitter limits the tweet communication to 140 characters may not be the best medium for retail promotions, but given the recent growth in Twitter's popularity, that is yet to be determined. Twitter appears to have reached a plateau, as recent reports (Quenqua, 2010) indicate that while new users are signing up to Twitter, they are not active. More than three-fourths (80%) have sent less than 10 tweets after they sign up to the social network, and 40% have never sent a tweet.

This paper provides the statistics that were collected by the researchers over a 3-month time span that investigated how and what social media was employed by top retailers through the financially important holiday season. The researchers believe that the results of this study could be applied to future promotional programs, and to refine effective market segmentation and target marketing tactics. Clearly, more in-depth data must be collected to determine what consumers think about and communicate regarding retailers, special promotions and offers, as well as customer service performance. Future research should analyze the content of consumer posts and comments, as well as responsiveness to specific posts and promotions by retailers. Use of new online analytic tools should also be employed to provide more detailed statistics regarding specific social media networks and individual retailer's promotional content. Several new measures have recently been added to the arsenal of online metrics. One of those is the Facebook Fashion Index ("New Index Ranks Facebook Fans' Fashion Choices," 2010) by Stylophane. This index shows the daily percentage increase or decrease in the number of fans for a particular brand. This company also posts the Fashion Popularity Index, tracking the most searched brands online ("Fashion Popularity Index," 2010).


Successful retailers will continue to employ social media marketing, and consumers are expected to be responsive. Online retail sales were up during Holiday 2009, at the expense of brick-and-mortar sales (Coremetrics, 2010). Much of the increase is attributed to early pre-promotions for Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials. Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy's supports the importance of the online channel for multi-channel retailers, since every $1 consumers spend online, they spend $5.77 in store. Thus, it is important for multi-channel retailers to use the Internet to attract new customers and strengthen their relationship with consumers to get them into the store. Social media marketing is a significant tool in the relationship-building arsenal. Social media continued to grow during 2009, as reported by ComScore (Radwanick, 2010), with four of five Internet users visiting a social networking site during December of 2009. Social networking now accounts for 11% of all time spent online in the United States.

While social media was about developing engagement and buzz, many retailers did not generate that many sales from SMM in 2009 (McDaniel, 2010). It is predicted that marketers will move away from just garnering followers, fans, and tweeters, to generating sales via online social media marketing strategies and tactics. There is a fine line or balance in order to successfully entice online consumers, without making they feel they are being "sold to" on the social network. To do this successfully, new metrics will need to be used to determine the appropriate segmentation strategies to deliver relevant promotions to consumers. One advantage of SMM promotions is that they do not cost a great deal of money for paid placements; rather it is simple and quick to post a promotion on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. The key is to then monitor not just the "buzz" of pass-along messages, but to analyze the content of the discussion: what consumers liked, disliked, etc. McDaniel suggests that consumer might be enthusiastic about the price of a specific promotion, but then complain the shipping and handling costs were too high. This type of information provides a simply opportunity for the retailer to capture consumer sentiment and adjust promotions.

Twitter may have been overrated (Wasserman, 2010) as evidenced by the plateau of tweets for most brands and companies on the site. Rather, interest by followers and tweets seems to be focused on celebrities, rather than brands and companies. Twitter may be effective for mining what conversations and tweets are saying about the brand, but it is not terribly effective for marketing messages. While Dell and BestBuy have used Twitter effectively to improve customer service and offer especially hard-hitting deals and promotions, it appears that Twitter may be more effective for up-and-coming brands/companies, rather than well-established corporations.

Effective cross-channel promotions, such as those using email, Facebook and Twitter are not easy. It is important to coordinate cross-channel promotions (Henrich, 2010). Email and post on the Facebook Wall, as well as posts on Twitter was not possible simultaneously. Furthermore each medium requires different metric and analytic tools. An even more complicating factor: different platforms often require different software to post to individual social media networks. Retailers will need to plan across promotions as well as channels to effectively implement social media marketing programs that garner consumer engagement and generate sales in the coming year. Effective timing and coordination across multiple social network platforms and other online and interactive media will be a challenge in the coming year.


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Michelle B. Kunz, Morehead State University

Brittany A. Hackworth, Morehead State University
Table 1: Distribution of participation across social networks

Retailer      Facebook    Kaboodle     MySpace    Twitter    YouTube

Amazon            X
Apple             X
Barnes &          X                                             X
Best Buy          X                                  X
CVS               X
Dell              X                       X          X
Gap               X
Home Depot        X                                  X          X
JC Penney         X           X                      X          X
Kohls             X                       X
Lowes             X                       X                     X
Macys             X           X                                 X
Neiman            X                                             X
QVC               X                                  X          X
Sears             X                                  X          X
Staples           X
Target            X                                             X
Wal-Mart          X                                             X

Table 2 Level of Activity for Kaboodle

                      JC Penney

Week     Fans     Comm     Prod     Promo

  1     10,012
  2     10,218
  3     10,508
  4     10,348
  5     10,645     80     18,816      0
  6     10,775     79     19,144      0
  7     11,012     79     19,369      0
  8     11,230     79     19,540      0
  9     11,398     79     19,727      0
 10     11,789     79     19,949      0
 11     12,587     80     18,542      0
 12     13,522     82     17,372      0
 13     14,938     83     15,308      0
 14     15,231     83     15,988      0
 15     15,768     83     15,329      0
 16     16,115     83     15,518      1
 17     16,779     83     15,679      0
 18     17,169     83     15,728      0


Week     Fans     Comm     Prod     Promo

  1     14,836
  2     15,077
  3     15,302
  4     15,489
  5     15,661     26     20,869      0
  6     15,831     27     21,057      0
  7     16,145     27     21,304      0
  8     16,433     28     21,493      0
  9     16,655     28     21,622      0
 10     17,013     28     21,901      0
 11     17,958     28     19,586      0
 12     18,081     27     18,451      0
 13     19,094     32     19,214      0
 14     20,199     32     19,010      0
 15     20,329     31     19,374      0
 16     20,576     34     19,654      0
 17     20,893     34     19,781      0
 18     21,461     35     20,189      0

Table 3 Level of Activity on MySpace

               Dell                Kohls               Lowes

Week    Friends    Comm     Friends    Comm     Friends    Comm

  1     10,778                147       127      1,278     1,008
  2     10,834      425       147       127      1,277     1,008
  3     10,818      423       145       127      1,267     1,006
  4     10,813      423       146       127      1,269     1,006
  5     10,805      423       144       127      1,260     1,007
  6     10,793      423       143       127      1,258     1,008
  7     10,778      423       142       127      1,256      999
  8     10,761      417       143       127      1,248      999
  9     10,752      414       143       127      1,244      994
 10     10,751      413       143       127      1,242      994
 11     10,747      413       143       127      1,240      994
 12     10,737      412       142       127      1,239      992
 13     10,730      412       142       127      1,234      990
 14     10,725      412       142       127      1,234      987
 15     10,703      412       142       127      1,233      985
 16     10,697      411       141       127      1,233      983
 17     10,689      410       141       127      1,219      980
 18     10,681      409       146       126      1,207      978

Table 4 Twitter Activity

             Best Buy                  Dell              Home Depot

Week     Foll     Tweets       Foll        Foll     Tweets     Foll

  1      8,773      477      1,156,585     1,364      902      4,815
  2      9,344      493      1,194,679     1,423      920      4,887
  3      9,754      502      1,256,743     1,724      947      5,018
  4     10,175      537      1,266,190     1,560      935      5,124
  5     10,596      548      1,294,412     1,808      955      2,391
  6     11,030      564      1,315,715     1,900      964      5,444
  7     11,548      574      1,341,237     1,993      979      5,600
  8     11,944      587      1,367,066     2,097      997      5,785
  9     12,349      600      1,383,306     2,199     1,010     5,896
 10     12,871      626      1,401,620     2,295     1,027     6,015
 11     13,118      637      1,415,874     2,358     1,039     6,132
 12     13,628      643      1,429,123     2,442     1,051     6,245
 13     14,104      681      1,455,988     2,652     1,091     6,619
 14     14,897      724      1,489,113     2,764     1,102     6,808
 15     15,349      749      1,519,001     2,909     1,117     6,991
 16     16,002      768      1,522,958     3,013     1,125     7,116
 17     16,859      783      1,531,768     3,215     1,137     7,229
 18     17,828      806      1,540,894     3,401     1,149     7,301

             JC Penney             QVC                 Sears

Week    Tweets     Foll     Tweets     Foll     Tweets    Tweets

  1       697      2,170      215      2,323     2,822      680
  2       862      2,170      215      2,345     2,940      685
  3       891      2,259      221      2,361     2,941      699
  4       976      2,340      238      2,431     2,941      715
  5       241      2,391      241      2,560     3,010      735
  6      1,073     2,459      244      4,082      374       752
  7      1,119     2,529      247      4,097      375       761
  8      1,186     2,593      250      4,183      375       779
  9      1,238     2,646      250      4,284      395       784
 10      1,320     2,768      256      4,491      404       789
 11      1,389     2,910      269      5,601      436       791
 12      1,449     3,122      280      6,783      458       794
 13      1,636     3,398      309      7,322      471       798
 14      1,860     3,510      319      7,570      487       801
 15      1,902     3,766      322      7,839      492       804
 16      1,978     3,897      327      8,120      503       808
 17      2,037     4,014      334      8,208      516       812
 18      2,152     4,177      339      8,333      525       815


Week     Foll     Tweets

  1      2,657       3
  2      2,774       3
  3     13,405     2,494
  4     13,405     2,494
  5     13,662     2,551
  6     13,928     2,606
  7     14,417     2,676
  8     14,401     2,718
  9     14,656     2,745
 10     14,951     2,793
 11     15,208     2,814
 12     15,417     2,885
 13     15,653     2,952
 14     15,944     3,023
 15     16,145     3,077
 16     16,877     3,105
 17     17,102     3,124
 18     17,437     3,146

Table 5 YouTube Activity

         Barnes & Noble        Home Depot           JC Penney

Week     Views     Subs     Views      Subs     Views     Subs

  1      9,417     187     261,017    2,479    22,470     558
  2     10,168     192     263,209    2,527    22,751     562
  3     10,204     203     267,305    2,609    23,708     581
  4     10,257     205     265,784    2,563    22,989     568
  5     10,444     206     269,169    2,650    24,300     600
  6     10,626     209     270,985    2,700    24,876     612
  7     10,956     215     243,711    2,769    25,861     631
  8     11,280     222     276,569    2,827    26,627     648
  9     11,497     227     278,591    2,864    31,421     659
 10     11,807     236     281,281    2,903    51,312     682
 11     11,963     241     283,742    2,957    52,984     687
 12     12,062     249     286,913    2,975    54,175     693
 13     12,362     257     292,115    3,054    58,765     718
 14     12,725     262     297,439    3,136    63,446     734
 15     12,986     268     301,751    3,227    68,147     756
 16     13,198     271     306,273    3,322    73,150     779
 17     13,302     280     310,678    3,340    79,249     787
 18     13,435     287     315,780    3,351    88,264     806

                Lowes              Macys          Neiman Marcus

Week     Views      Subs     Views     Subs     Views     Subs

  1     419,873    1,947     1,628      8       6,274      83
  2     424,517    2,049     1,890      15      6,294      83
  3     429,650    2,171     2,013      21      6,301      83
  4     426,756    2,108     2,282      28      6,334      83
  5     432,246    2,232     2,359      34      6,359      83
  6     434,755    2,285     2,442      44      6,361      85
  7     438,756    2,348     2,568      47      6,443      85
  8     442,655    2,393     2,628      54      6,493      86
  9     445,756    2,429     2,709      55      6,518      86
 10     449,609    2,481     2,819      57      6,545      88
 11     451,287    2,102     2,865      59      6,560      88
 12     455,559    2,537     2,978      65      6,579      88
 13     460,562    2,602     3,316      71      6,591      88
 14     465,903    2,673     3,667      79      6,606      88
 15     471,737    2,757     3,819      85      6,625      88
 16     477,741    2,781     3,902      89      6,647      89
 17     479,917    2,802     3,989      97      6,679      90
 18     482,869    2,839     4,017     106      6,721      92

                QVC                 Sears

Week     Views      Subs     Views      Subs

  1      94,316     445     346,532     752
  2      95,671     454     349,174     804
  3      97,124     465     350,871     817
  4      98,698     475     351,531     836
  5     352,653     849     352,653     849
  6     101,778     501     353,703     856
  7     104,143     514     354,975     867
  8     106,496     526     355,958     881
  9     108,176     539     356,897     893
 10     109,679     547     358,357     909
 11     111,076     552     359,997     922
 12     112,942     557     361,104     939
 13     115,945     565     364,627     955
 14     118,987     586     368,232     968
 15     122,895     609     375,033     989
 16     127,110     615     380,038     996
 17     132,458     623     384,139     1010
 18     137,087     630     386,990     1025

              Target                 WalMart

Week     Views     Subs       Views       Subs

  1     67,917     258     17,180,210    1,406
  2     70,538     298     17,181,538    1,414
  3     73,431     347     17,182,264    1,421
  4     76,335     415     17,184,368    1,433
  5     79,568     463     17,185,898    1,449
  6     81,061     485     17,187,083    1,459
  7     82,529     500     17,188,445    1,474
  8     83,841     523     17,190,421    1,497
  9     84,666     537     17,191,491    1,507
 10     85,744     556     17,192,982    1,527
 11     87,009     578     17,194,561    1,546
 12     88,012     595     17,196,002    1,570
 13     91,320     621     17,197,013    1,587
 14     93,891     669     17,198,026    1,606
 15     95,609     698     17,199,058    1,629
 16     96,512     727     17,200,016    1,633
 17     97,893     756     17,201,372    1,638
 18     99,300     778     17,202,626    1,645

Table 6 Percentage Change from Week 1 to Week 18

Retailer          FaceBook    Kaboodle       MS        Twitter
                    Fans        Fans       Friends    Followers

Amazon              26.70%
Apple                4.30%
Barnes & Noble     127.30%
BestBuy             36.50%                             103.20%
CVS                495.10%
Dell               112.00%                 -0.50%       33.20%
Gap                 27.00%
Home Depot         117.70%                              27.60%
JC Penney           41.50%     71.00%                     149%
Kohl's              28.40%                  0.00%
Lowes               30.00%                 -5.60%
Macy's             320.70%     44.70%
NeimanMarcus       628.00%
QVC                304.80%                              51.60%
Sears              531.80%                              92.50%
Staples            169.50%
Target             38.10%
WalMart            556.80%                             258.70%

Retailer           Twitter     YouTube     YouTube
                   Tweets       Views       Subs

Barnes & Noble                 42.70%      53.50%
BestBuy            68.90%
Dell               19.90%
Home Depot         23.30%      21.00%      35.20%
JC Penney          27.40%     292.80%      44.40%
Lowes                          15.00%      45.80%
Macy's                        146.70%    1225.00%
NeimanMarcus                    7.10%      10.80%
QVC                208.80%     45.30%      41.60%
Sears              57.70%      11.70%      36.30%
Target                         46.20%     201.60%
WalMart            -81.40%      0.13%      17.00%

Table 7 Percentage change for retailers only on Facebook

         Amazon                 Apple
Week     FBFans    %Change      FBFans     %Change

  1      15,558               1,377,557
  2      15677                1,381,648
  3      15734                1,385,675
  4      15856      1.90%     1,388,285     0.80%
  5      15959                1,390,836
  6      16091                1,395,348
  7      16290                1,397,490
  8      16569      3.80%     1,399,974     0.60%
  9      16824                1,402,716
 10      17026                1,404,678
 11      17321                1,406,794
 12      17545      4.30%     1,408,563     0.40%
 13      18337                1,411,418
 14      18858                1,414,440
 15      19003                1,417,491
 16      19276                1,420,680
 17      19513      6.40%     1,425,067     1.00%
 18      19707      26.70%    1,436,369     4.30%

          Gap      Staples
Week     FBFans     FBFans    %Change

  1     395,678     28,528
  2     428,057     28,963
  3     434,179     28,858
  4     462,361     28,883     1.20%
  5     468,882     43,943
  6     471,761     56,145
  7     473,051     57,191
  8     474,655     57,165     30.10%
  9     476,173     57,141
 10     477,741     57,914
 11     479,182     58,241
 12     482,992     59,159     3.50%
 13     486,380     63,636
 14     490,029     65,317
 15     498,002     68,440
 16     500,124     71,827
 17     501,072     74,925     17.70%
 18     502,641     76,886    169.50%
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Author:Kunz, Michelle B.; Hackworth, Brittany A.
Publication:Academy of Marketing Studies Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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