January 3, 2013, 12:59 PM

The leaders in social commerce are not the usual suspects

Internet Retailer’s Social Media 300 reveals that smaller web-only merchants are beating out Amazon and Wal-Mart in social media marketing.

Stefany Moore

Associate Director of Research

Lead Photo

Here’s what the leaders in social media marketing and commerce look like: they are small to mid-sized web-only merchants, relatively new to online retailing. They are putting social media at the forefront of their business strategies. And they are growing fast as a result.

The Social Media 300, Internet Retailer’s new publication available today, is a comprehensive analysis of e-retailers’ social commerce strategies and a first-ever ranking of retailers’ social skills based on the percentage of web site traffic merchants receive from social networks—a key measure of how effective e-retailers are at social media marketing and commerce.

The research shows that merchants don’t need to have large staffs or big budgets to be successful in social media marketing. Quite the opposite, in fact, as nine of the top ten retailers in the guide brought in less than $30 million in online sales in 2011.

Merchants at the top of the Social Media 300, like pet food supplies retailer PetFlow.com (No. 1), design-inspired flash sale newcomer Fab.com (No. 2) and baking flour maker and e-retailer King Arthur Flour (No. 6), are generating significant returns by making social media a priority. They are adept at weaving social connections into many aspects of the shopping experience, and have found innovative ways to find new customers via social networks and then to connect with these and existing customers on a personal level.

“We’re really trying to build customers for a lifetime, and social is a way for us to do that,” says Fab.com founder and CEO Jason Goldberg.

What the Social Media 300 documents is how these social media strategies drive traffic and sales. PetFlow.com, brings in 30% of its total site traffic and overall revenue from social networks—mostly as a result of a laser-like focus on building a maintaining a loyal Facebook fan base and regular posts that speak to their followers’ inner pet lover.

Fab.com has made social media a key component of its business strategy from the beginning—most notably with cash rewards for sharing its products on social networks and a custom-built social feed that alerts visitors to Fab.com of who’s buying, sharing or liking its products at any time. The merchant gets 25% of its site traffic and around-one third of its sales directly from consumers who click to the site from online social networks.

For eyewear retailer Coastal Contacts Inc. (No. 3), sales from social networks comprised an estimated 5% of sales last year, a substantial sum for a web retailer that generated $177 million in sales online in 2011.

Many of the leaders in the Social Media 300 are finding that social media is a cost-effective way to generate results. Most retailers can’t match, for example, the $3.9 million Amazon.com Inc. spends each month to drive traffic via paid search ads, according to search marketing firm ROI Revolution Inc. But they can channel their passion for, and their knowledge about, the products they sell into engaging campaigns on social networks and innovative design elements on their own e-commerce sites that integrate the comments, sharing and purchases of their socially connected fans.

On average, retailers in the Social Media 300 get 4.25% of their total site traffic directly from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Those numbers vary widely from top to bottom—ranging anywhere from 0.33% for sporting goods merchant The Sportsman’s Guide (No. 300) all the way to 30% of site traffic for PetFlow.com.

And while it may be surprising as to which merchants are landing in the top of the rankings, it’s also important to note which ones are missing. The largest online merchant, Amazon.com Inc., and the world’s largest chain retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., both are ranked below 125. Other retail chains like Barnes & Noble Inc., Target Corp., Walgreen Co. and Best Buy Co. also fail to make the Top 100. In fact, there isn’t a single retailer with a physical store in the Top 10.

The Social Media 300 includes detailed operating data, including each merchant’s 2012 social commerce sales—defined as transactions completed on an e-commerce site after a consumer clicks from a social network—and conversion rate and average order values on visits from social networks.

While the leaders in the Social Media 300 are driving huge portions of traffic and sales from social networks, they are the exception. Internet Retailer research reveals social commerce sales as a whole are a small portion of total online sales. Merchants in the Social Media 300 brought in a total of $1.6 billion in social commerce sales last year, less than 1% of the $224.2 billion in U.S. online retail sales projected for 2012 by eMarketer, a research firm focused on online marketing and commerce.

Direct sales doesn’t tell the whole social media story, however, as many retailers see social media marketing primarily as a way to attract and engage consumers. This publication measures their success by reporting for each of the 300 retailers their Facebook fan counts, number of Twitter and Pinterest followers, and YouTube video views. Key engagement metrics are also included, such as average number of comments per Facebook post, number of Likes per Facebook fan and average retweets (or percentage of posts on Twitter that are re-shared by a retailer’s follower).

Information on how to order the Internet Retailer Social Media 300 is here.

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