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Brand Engagement: Curation and image

Leading retailers in the Brand Engagement Dimension cultivate an audience across a range of social media channels.

How top European retailers communicate with their customers, particularly using social media, is the focus of the Brand Engagement Dimension. RetailX analysis looked at what retailers do when they talk to existing and potential customers, and how they enable them to get in touch and ask a question, deal with a problem or even share their response to the products and services that they sell. Researchers analysed how many website visits retailers receive and how many communication channels they offer to shoppers. They also analysed traders’ use of social media channels, looking in further depth at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

It’s notable that fashion retailers dominate the upper reaches of the Brand Engagement Dimension, with Zara, H&M, Esprit, Kiabi and Mango in the top five. Perhaps these are the retailers that must work harder to inspire shoppers to buy their products rather than a rival’s.

How to get in touch with Top500 retailers?

In 2019, the average – and the median – Top500 retailer offers seven channels to customers who want to get in touch. Those typically include mail, phone, live chat and a range of social media networks. Retailers selling fashion footwear, jewellery and fashion accessories are the most likely to have more than seven, while those selling software, music, film and TV products offer, on average, more than three but fewer than four. Researchers say that it’s striking how these figures are consistent across different sectors. Perhaps there’s simply more demand for information about fashion products compared with other products.

Researchers also looked at how many visitors the average Top500 website receives – 45.6m visits a year. The median retailer, however, sees 12.1m, suggesting that the biggest retail websites are so much more visited than others that they distort the average.

How do European leading retailers use social media?

Facebook is the most widely used social media site – 489 of the Top500 retailers have a presence on it. That’s followed by picture-focused Instagram (439), video-sharing channel YouTube (428), Twitter (404) and Pinterest (331), through which retailers can share product and lifestyle images. Snapchat, through which retailers can share picture-led stories about their work and brands, is a minority site, used by just 65 of the Top500.

Looking at social media use in more detail, RetailX research found that those using Twitter have a median number of 46,100 followers. That’s 8,700 more than last year, despite a crackdown in the interim on robotic accounts. The average is much higher, at 2.5m, showing again the effect that retailers with larger followings have in lifting the average significantly. The median Top500 Twitter handle posted 2,400 times in the last year, showing that these accounts tend to be reasonably active.

In 2019, fewer retailers enable social media followers to Like a product. Of the 495 traders measured in both periods, 13% offer this in 2019, down by 4pp from 17% in 2018. The fastest decline was in the UK (-12pp to 6%, of 256 retailers measured in both periods). Romania (8%), Slovakia and Slovenia (both 9%) are least likely to offer the feature, while those selling in Finland (28%), Estonia, Greece and Portugal (all 24%) are most likely. In all, 24 member states show no change in the use of this feature, while the others show declines. Those selling music, film and TV (26%) and software are the most likely to enable social media Likes, with brands, grocers and health (all 8%) the least likely.

More traders enable shoppers to share a product with friends, whether via direct message, a shared link or social media. 57% of retailers support product sharing in 2019, +5pp from 52% last year. The fastest increases came in the Estonian (+10pp to 31%, 22 retailers) and Slovakian (+10pp to 57%, 38 retailers), while the only decline is in Austria (-2pp to 48%, 82 retailers). Six member states saw no change. Product sharing is more commonly found among retailers selling stationery and craft (52%), on marketplaces (50%), and less commonly found among those selling ready-made food (10%), drink (22%) and grocery (24%).

Focus on Facebook and Instagram

Researchers looked at more than 2,500 social media profiles that were linked to Top500 retail websites. They included 600 Instagram accounts and 1,800 on Facebook. The remainder had technical problems. The research aimed to find out how sophisticated retailers’ use of the accounts could be. It found that 65% of the social media profiles analysed are specific to a region. That region is generally the UK or Europe, with just over a third (35%) that are not.

On Instagram 22% are region-specific and 78% are not. More than a quarter have a chat window that popped up automatically while 72% do not. And 16% of profiles have posts pinned to the top of their feed or page. However, 84% do not.

Ratings and reviews

More retailers started to share product reviews with customers over the period. Of the 495 retailers measured in both years, 55% featured product reviews in 2019, up from 51% in 2018.

The largest growth came in Slovakia, where 50% (+6 percentage points) of the 19 retailers measured in both periods share reviews in 2019, and Germany (+5pp to 49%, 177 retailers). But fewer retailers offer the feature in Croatia (-9pp to 22%, 19 retailers), Luxembourg (-5pp to 33%, 21 retailers) and Slovenia (-5pp to 31%, 17 retailers).

Product reviews are most commonly offered by retailers selling consumer electronics (76%), on marketplaces (72%), by those selling stationery and craft (72%), sports and outdoor equipment (70%) and books (70%). Traders selling ready-made food (37%), brands (42%) and fashion clothing (42%) are least likely to offer product reviews.

More than half (58%) of Top500 retailers enable customers to rate the products they sell. Product ratings are more often present on websites selling books, where 82% of retailers use them, as well as on sites selling software (77%), consumer electronics (76%), appliances (75%) and stationery and craft (73%). They are least often present, RetailX analysis found, on sites selling fashion clothing (45%), accessories (46%) and footwear (49%).

Some retailers offer specific ratings on a particular aspect of a product, such as how accurate sizing is or how long an item lasts. These are found on 18% of Top500 websites, mostly commonly among those selling sports and leisure footwear (28%), clothing and trade tools and equipment (24%).

Promotions and guest checkout

In 2019, most retailers feature banner promotions on their website landing page: the proportion doing so rose to by 15pp to 83% from 68% of the 495 retailers measured in both periods. Some 81% of the Top100 use the promotions at the time of analysis, although brands were less likely to do so than the average Top500 retailer.

More retailers require shoppers to register before checkout in 2019, rising to 55% from 50% last year. The fastest increase came in Romania (+25pp to 59% of 33 retailers measured in both periods), Austria (21pp to 70%, 82 retailers), and Czechia (16pp to 62%, 57 retailers), while the fastest declines were in the UK (-4pp to 58% of 256 retailers) and Spain (-2pp to 54%, 118 retailers). Traders selling ready-made food (83%), grocery (73%) and drink (72%) were the most likely to require visitors to log in or register before buying, while brands (31%), jewellery (34%) and fashion accessories (37%) were least likely.

Case Study:


Zara delivers a carefully curated mix of inspirational images and videos to millions of followers on five key social media channels – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube – all linked to from its ecommerce website.

Its largest audience is on Instagram, where it has 35.2m followers at the time of writing and has posted 2,687 times. Its pictures and videos feature lifestyle and product images and videos across its ranges, from menswear and womenswear through to children’s clothing and homewares.
Zara has more than 27m followers on a Facebook page that has been running since 2008. Again, its images and videos feature its latest ranges of clothing. This page, however, is not specific to a particular region, it does feature a pop-up live chat window.

Its Twitter account has posted 36,600 tweets, although with 1.3m followers, this channel is comparatively less used by its customers. Zara curates a number of campaign boards on Pinterest, where it had 780,217 followers at the time of writing. Storytelling videos featuring Zara ‘scenes’ and its latest campaigns feature on Zara’s YouTube channel, where the fashion brand has 71,700 subscribers.

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