The Gift of Gab: Retailers Should Expect a 20% Jump in Social Messages This Holiday Season

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Despite Increasing Demand, The Sprout Social Index Finds That 5 in 6 Messages Sent to Retailers Go Unanswered

During the holidays, long lines and understaffed stores are common at many brick-and-mortar retail shops; according to the most recent Sprout Social Index, that trend has seeped into social media as well. Today, people are failing to receive a prompt response from retail brands on social media 83% of the time—while the lucky few who do hear back have to wait an average of 12 hours.

In other words, most retailers are turning their backs on a highly captive audience, resulting in a potential loss of business to brands that take a more proactive, helpful approach to customer service.

The problem for the retail industry is twofold:
1.) More and more people have questions on social. This holiday season, the average retailer can expect more than 1,500 inbound social messages—a nearly 20% jump from the number of messages brands in this industry received last year at this time.
2.) Retailers choose promotions over customer service. Rather than focusing on people’s concerns, retail brands send out 3 times as many promotional messages—deals, coupons and product merchandising—as they do helpful responses.

But it’s not all bad news: The Q4 2015 Sprout Social Index reveals a great opportunity for retailers seeking to boost their sales this holiday season. While consumer demand for better customer service is increasing on social, wise retailers will redirect their attention to what people are seeking first and foremost. In fact, retail brands that actively listen and actually respond to their customers should benefit big this holiday season, since research shows that people are 7 times more likely to respond to your promotions after you interact with them in some meaningful way.

“Social media is an integral part of consumers’ daily lives and a critical communication channel for brands to engage in conversation with their customers during the holidays,” said Scott Brandt, CMO of Sprout Social. “The Sprout Social Index reveals that more often than not, brands are silent when their customers reach out. Whether answering a product question or confirming a customer’s gift order, brands have an opportunity to positively influence awareness, customer loyalty, positive sentiment and seasonal sales through social media engagement.”

Building on previous analyses, The Q4 2015 Sprout Social Index shines light on trends specific to the retail industry as well as brands’ social responsiveness across several other sectors. By aggregating and analyzing public Twitter and Facebook social profile data between Q3 2014 and Q3 2015, Sprout reveals that:

  • Retailers are seeing more inbound social messages than ever. Even outside of the holidays, the retail industry sees, on average, 19% more messages than it did a year ago.
  • Facebook or Twitter? Retailers may need to shift their focus. While retailers are sending 3 times more messages on Twitter, their incoming messages there have trended downward while messages on Facebook have increased.
  • Retailers only respond to 1 in 6 messages that warrant a response—and during the holiday season, they respond even less. While retailers saw a 21% increase in incoming social messages from Q3 to Q4 2014, their response rate during that time period declined.

Retail is not the only industry that could stand to improve its social responsiveness. The Sprout Social Index shows a 32% increase in the amount of messages sent from consumers to brands over the past year, yet brands’ social responsiveness has declined. Key findings include:

  • Across industry, response rate continues to decline. In the last Index, 7 in 8 messages from consumers to brands went unanswered within 72 hours—today that number is 8 in 9.
  • When brands do respond, it takes longer. The average response time has increased from 11 to 12 hours since the last Index.
  • The top four most responsive industries on social remain unchanged. Utilities, retail, banking/finance and automotive all experienced no change in their responsiveness despite shifts in other industries.

Read and download the full report and infographic from Sprout Insights.

The Sprout Social Index is a report compiled and released by Sprout Social. All referenced data is based on 119K public social profiles (64K Facebook; 55K Twitter) of continually active accounts between Q3 2014 and Q3 2015. More than 255 million messages sent during that time were analyzed for the purposes of this report. Some data from Q3 2014 to Q3 2015 may have shifted from the last Sprout Social Index report due to a shift in the social profiles analyzed; however, all overarching trends remain consistent.

Industry classifications were based on LinkedIn industry categories. In some cases, closely related industries were merged into a single overarching industry. All messages analyzed that were considered casual mentions or not in need of a response were excluded from engagement, response rate and response time calculations with the intention of eliminating noise. Analysis of which messages required attention was done using Sprout’s proprietary technologies. Response time and response rate calculations were done using Sprout’s Engagement Reporting technology found in the Sprout Social product.

Sprout Social offers social media engagement, advocacy and analytics solutions for leading agencies and brands, including Anthropologie, GrubHub, Hyatt, Spotify and Zipcar. Available via web browser, iOS and Android apps, Sprout’s engagement platform enables brands to more effectively communicate on social channels, collaborate across teams and provide an exceptional customer experience. Bambu by Sprout Social, a platform for advocacy, empowers employees to share curated content across their social networks to further amplify a brand’s reach and engagement. Headquartered in Chicago, Sprout is a Twitter Official Partner, Facebook Marketing Partner, LinkedIn Company Page Partner and Google+ Pages API Partner. Learn more at and

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Jennifer Mulligan

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