SORO author Sucharita Mulpuru shares insights on this year’s report

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The State of Retailing Online 2011 is hot off the presses today, this round focusing on all things online marketing, social media and mobile. Conducted in partnership with Forrester Research, it is chock full of retail benchmarking data, from top customer acquisition sources and increased spend in 2011 (social networks came in second to SEO, though ahead of email), to a thorough review of social media, including usage and effectiveness ratings and how Facebook fits into the overall marketing mix. We also asked retailers to weigh in on mobile strategies, exploring investment in and objectives for smartphones and tablets. Shop.org members can download the full results on our site, and today’s press release also contains highlights.

I asked Sucharita Mulpuru, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research and lead author of this report, for a few of her thoughts on the findings.

Almost two-thirds of retailers surveyed told you that the returns on social marketing strategies are unclear, but three-quarters of retailers also said they’re spending more this year on social media as part of their marketing mix. How do you make sense of that?

A couple of things—the spend is still very small, so it’s not asking a big retailer much to spend an additional $50k more on Facebook ads when their entire marketing budget may be several million dollars. But at the end of the day, there is an enormous camp of people who believe that social commerce will transform retail, and it’s hard to just ignore it altogether even though the data continues to not be very compelling. 52% of retailers also say they don’t want to be late movers in the social phenomenon—that’s really what I think is guiding the passion and the investment.

What is one thing that you’re telling all retailers to do when it comes to mobile? Similarly, what’s the one thing you’re advising retailers that they *shouldn’t* do?

Just make sure that your site is edited and legible across as many mobile browsers as possible. And QA your site on tablets—you don’t need special content for your tablets, especially if you are resource-constrained, but you do need to make sure pages render well and checkout works. Don’t worry about an app unless there is a really compelling reason to have one.

Tablets are hot, hot, hot — how should retailers invest in tablets specifically this year for maximum return?

As I mentioned above, just make sure the site works on a tablet. It’s not essential to invest in an app, but there are some interesting tablet app plays by start-ups that are good ways to test the waters while letting others build out a compelling content experience—TheFind, for instance, has a great catalog app coming out soon that is likely to get good customer traction and can get a brand in front of a lot of web shoppers without requiring the brand to invest in a lot of technology.

Don’t miss Sucharita’s in-depth discussion of these topics with executives from Moosejaw and OfficeMax during a Shop.org webinar this Thursday, May 5.

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