The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has just produced a new report on The social shopper: Harnessing the disruptive influence of social media. Download link here.

The report, sponsored by SAP, is a sobering reality check showing that social media is simply not a priority for retailers (echoing the stats we reported in our own recent report on the use of Facebook in the context of retail that 68% of retailers believe that if Facebook disappeared tomorrow, it would have absolutely no effect on their business).  The EUI report contains survey results from 179 retail execs primarily from US, UK, India, China/HK, and Australia.

Those retailers that do use social media use it primarily as a digital marketing channel, and do so primarily to promote merchandise and offers, with a view to creating awareness, acquiring new customers and ‘engaging’ existing customers – with some experimenting as an ancillary customer service channel.  For retailers using social media, Facebook is the tool of choice, with on-site reviews and commenting, YouTube, Twitter runners-up.

Other notable stats include:

  • Only 12% of retailers have added full-time staff to manage social media
  • Only 6% measure ROI on social media investment
  • Only 12% believe social media marketing is more effective than traditional marketing
  • 84% rate their social media efforts as poor or average
  • 23% monitor social sites but don’t actively participate
  • 24% don’t use social media to communicate with customers

The EIU notes that four themes emerged from retailers feedback about what is needed to build a successful social media strategy. Success requires following four general principles:

  • Commitment. The biggest social media challenge facing retailers is getting the internal commitment from senior management and  front-line personnel, in terms of resoure allocation
  • Consistency.  Retailers should remember to keep a consistent brand personality and promise between channels, including social channels
  • Community.  Retailers need to evolve from using social media as merely a channel for messaging, to a community hub for the brand that allows consumers to interact with each other and the retailer
  • Collaboration.  Retailers will profit most from the potential of social media when they use it as collaboration tool rather than a communication tool – using social media to collaborate internally with colleagues and departments, and externally with partners and suppliers (and even consumers – in the context of new product development)

Useful charts and stats from the survey (Source Economist Intelligence Unit Survey 2011): (n = 179 retail execs US, UK, China/HK, India, Australia, Brazil – see report for detail)