Social media not filling up cash registers — yet

Online retailers led the way in holiday sales gains, but their investment in social media brought minimal oomph to the cash register.

So says ForeSee Results, which surveyed 10,000 online shoppers in peak season to learn that fewer than 5 percent of holiday sales were "primarily" influenced by so-called social media — Facebook, Twitter, blogs or shoppers delivered to a shopping site by smart phones. Virtually all the influence came from shoppers using social media to learn about products and prices. Separately, IBM Coremetrics linked less than 1 percent of holiday sales to social media.

Despite the hype, social media was dwarfed by results of such old-school tactics as promotional e-mail (19 percent) and search engine optimization, which companies employ to increase their chances of being among the first listings on sites such as Google and Yahoo (9 percent).

"Social media was relatively small, but it's growing," said Larry Fleet, chief executive of the Ann Arbor, Mich., firm. "So retailers are wise to make it only part of their online marketing."

Don't expect retailer obsession with social media to wane yet. Just as Willie Sutton robbed banks because that's where the money was, online retailers see Facebook as where shoppers are — now that it draws more Web visits than Google.

Overall, customer satisfaction ratings for online shopping slipped to a 78, down from 79. That's still better than brick-and-mortar stores, which scored a 75.

The customer satisfaction scorecard of online retail rivalries found:

• Amazon.com, 86, ahead of Walmart.com, 80.

• Staples.com, 78, ahead of OfficeDepot.com, 76, and Office Max, 75.

• Netflix.com, 86, ahead of Blockbuster.com, 76.

• Apple.com, 82, ahead of HPshopping.com, 78; BestBuy.com, 77; Dell.com, 76; Sears.com 74, and TigerDirect.com, 73.

App happy

Winn-Dixie has come up with a mobile phone app that puts the chain's weekly ad circular and a digital personal shopping list in your hand while cruising the grocer's aisles.

Downloadable free from winndixie.com/Mobile/apps, the application works on Apple or Android smart phones.

"You can check off items as you place them in your cart," said Mary Kellmanson, the Jacksonville-based grocer's vice president for marketing. "No more paper lists stuffed in pockets or purses or left at home."

Dillard's stock price out of the doghouse

The top-performing retail stock in the Fortune 500 for 2010 was Dillard's Inc., the department store chain based in Little Rock, Ark., that runs its four-state southeast division from offices in Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg.

After a slump predating the recession, Dillard's shares doubled from $18.69 a year ago to close Dec. 31 at $37.94.

Credit the rebound to cost-cutting, a pickier brand inventory and a fashion statement that leans more toward Bloomingdale's and less toward Kohl's.

Stimulus payoff

President Barack Obama's pay raise to the working class — a one-year reduction in Social Security paycheck withholding — will put enough cash in people's pockets to lift consumer spending a half to three-quarters of a percentage point in 2011.

How much? For someone earning $40,000, about $800 spread over a year's paychecks.

A survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers concludes that up to $85 billion of the $112 billion consumers' payroll tax windfall will be spent in 2011 rather than salted away or used to pay down debt.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Social media not filling up cash registers — yet 01/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 3, 2011 7:04pm]

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