May 20, 2013, 11:26 AM

Top 500 retail chains kick it in with social media

Store-based merchants have boosted their collective Facebook fan base by 71% in the last year.

Stefany Moore

Associate Director of Research

Lead Photo

Florida-based department store chain Bealls Inc. spent $2,000 earlier this year to promote one of its Facebook posts announcing a Summer preview sale of 25% off all merchandise. It used a Facebook advertising option called Sponsored Stories that ensures that an advertiser’s posts will be seen by more of its Facebook fans.

On any given day, only around 10,000 of Bealls’ nearly 150,000 fans see its Facebook posts, and the $2,000 spend made the announcement visible to an additional 50,000 or so consumers, says Holly Smith, social media & mobile marketing manager for Bealls. And it worked, as the conversion rate for traffic that went to Bealls.com by clicking on that sponsored post was 12 times higher than the average conversion rate on the retailer’s site, BeallsFlorida.com, she adds. While she did not disclose the site’s typical conversion rate, Internet Retailer estimates it at 4.3%.

Bealls spends $10,000 to $14,000 per month on Sponsored Stories and display ads on Facebook, which contribute to the retailer receiving around 3% of its traffic from the social network. Smith also spends around 15% of her day responding to customer service issues on social networks, and is working on bringing gaming apps to the retailer’s Facebook page and expanding Bealls’ Pinterest following with contests and giveaways.

Bealls, No. 338 in the new Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, isn’t the only store-based merchant that’s been busy with social media in the last year. In fact, as a whole, retail chains in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide have boosted their Facebook fan base by nearly 71% to 279.8 million from 164.0 million.

Moreover, fans of the retail chains represent around 59% of the total Top 500 Guide fan base, compared with 44% in last year’s edition. Top 500 web-only merchants grew their Facebook fan bases faster on a percentage basis last year—167%—but they grew from a much smaller base than the chains, increasing from 21.3 million to 57.0 million fans.

Blogs are an increasing focus for the chains as well, as 76% of them now operate their own blog, versus 44% last year. By comparison, 126 Top 500 web-only merchants maintained a blog last year, versus 125 this year.

Chains are the furthest along with Pinterest, as well, as they have a combined total of 10.3 million followers on Pinterest, compared with catalogers, who have 7.6 million followers, web-only retailers 2.8 million and consumer brand manufacturers 300,000.

For Bealls, social media marketing isn’t ever going to get to the point of driving 30% of sales, Smith says, but it’s an important way for the merchant to connect with existing shoppers.  She says social media marketing also reaches younger consumers, many of whom wouldn’t ordinarily be drawn to Bealls, as its customer typical customer is 59 or older.

“We could compare our social strategy to a TV initiative, because it would be similar in generally aiming to get the message out there about who we are,” Smith says. “You just know TV is good to have and you know it’s working, but you can’t always pinpoint whether or not it’s driving direct conversions on site or in store.”

Read more Top 500 Insider stories here.

More on these and other metrics and analysis is contained in The 2013 Top 500 Guide.

The 2013 Top 500 Guide is available in three formats: print, digital and as part of the all-new and completely updated Top500Guide.com. Information on how to order the brand-new 2013 Top 500 Guide is available here.

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