Holiday Shopping on Social Media: Trends, Topics and the Bottom Line
Asher Feldman, General Sentiment

The 2013 holiday shopping season is in the books and the hammer has already fallen at retailers who didn’t meet expectations during the crush of post-Black Friday madness.

Stock prices have fallen at big-box retailers like Sears. Jobs have been cut at companies who fell short when it came to present shopping, such as Macy’s.

But are these companies making informed decisions? Or are they forgetting a key demographic that’s harder to measure in social media impact? Answering the question of how to best measure success on the vast landscape of the social medium could hold the key to the future success for these brands.

By diving into sentiment analysis across social media, you’ll find more than a bottom line. Retailers that might have fallen short when investors take stock might actually see a reprisal of fate when they look to the web.


During the season, consumer electronics giant Best Buy dominated its competition in average sentiment, a measurement of the positive or negative tone associated with a brand or topic calculated here on a -100 to +100 scale.

Of eight big-box retailers sampled — Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Costco, Target, Walmart — Best Buy’s +73 average daily sentiment between Nov. 22 and Dec. 31 bested No. 2 Sears (+57) by nearly 30 percent.

Despite finishing the season at No. 2 in average sentiment, Sears experienced a precipitous drop in stock price after it missed holiday projections. Analysts say deep discounts at the superstore likely undercut any profit margin Sears could have reaped. But the affordable prices certainly left a strong, positive impression on consumers.

Best Buy’s digital and television advertising campaigns for the holiday season were among the first to appear across mediums in 2013, perhaps encouraging consumers to turn to the store when Black Friday and Christmas shopping season came. Best Buy also employed an older-style SMS alert campaign in 2013 to keep consumers engaged with deals that spread throughout the holiday season and helped the store to No. 1 in 2013.

Target, which endured a huge consumer backlash after it was revealed some customer’s information had been compromised during a security breach, saw its sentiment across the web take a nosedive during the lead-up to Christmas, and ended the season with just the seventh-best sentiment score at +18.

It’s clear social media impacts the way people feel about any brand — whether it be a shoe company or the store the consumer buys the shoe at. Retailers and social media managers spend millions of marketing dollars to make sure their brand’s identity remains visible.

With so much chatter on the web, however, brands must also expect the average consumer to provide some unintended marketing, for better or for worse. There’s no strong way, however, to measure that impact separately from the work the company does on its own. That’s where “impact media value” can step in and provide a valuation of the web chatter.

Impact media value assigns a dollar value to the positive and negative mentions each brand receives on social media, providing a window into the earned exposure on the web from blogs, traditional news, Twitter and Facebook.

Not surprisingly, during the holiday season, Walmart came out ahead in media value. The web’s most-mentioned big-box brand during the time frame also enjoyed nearly $70 million in earned media impact, as consumers talked about their experience shopping at the retailing behemoth.

Those posts, whether tweets, Facebook updates or blog posts, were never going to be only glowing reviews. Many of the stories consumers shared, especially during Black Friday, painted Walmart in a negative light. But at the end of the season, it was clear Walmart still maintained a strong hold on the way people talk about shopping on the web.


Asher Feldman is Director of Strategy for General Sentiment