LONDON: Brand familiarity plays a key role in shaping online retail habits in the US and UK, but social media could soon assume a more important status.

Market research consultancy Foresee polled 20,000 netizens, and found "familiarity with a brand" was the main reason people visited the top 40 ecommerce sites, posting 38% in the US and 46% for the UK.

These figures reached 19% and 10% in turn when covering promotional emails, and search engine results logged 8% and 13% respectively.

Word of mouth only yielded 8% for the American panel and 10% concerning their British counterparts, and traditional media advertising was handed 8% by both groups.

Internet ads obtained 7% from the first sample, two percentage points clear of the second.

But blogs, shopping comparison and product review services all dropped below 5%.

Elsewhere, interactions on social networks, including peer-to-peer recommendations and brand communications, generated 5% among Americans and 3% in Britain.

More broadly, people primarily visiting ecommerce sites due to strong levels of recognition registered a customer satisfaction score of 80 points out of a possible 100 in the US and 75 points in the UK.

This cohort also recorded totals of at least 70 points relating to purchase likelihood from the relevant operator online and offline.

Word of mouth performed equally impressively on these metrics having motivated such behaviour, with a minimum 70 points across each measure monitored.

Social network advertising, text messages and mobile alerts, positive comments by contacts on a social network and instant messages from a trusted source achieved similar ratings.

When identifying their favoured way of hearing about sales and promotions, 63% of participants cited official emails, ahead of corporate websites and direct mail, both on 19%.

Television ads secured 9%, and 8% of Americans afforded social media the same position, a figure standing at 2% in the UK.

Of the Web 2.0 portals available to engage with brands, Facebook was the number one choice for receiving corporate communications, on 40% in the US and 33% in Britain.

Twitter and YouTube delivered a modest 3%, beating YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace and Flickr, at even lower levels.

Exactly 66% of Americans regularly visit Facebook, as do 61% of their UK peers.

These totals stood at 23% and 27% resepctively for YouTube, and 13% and 10% for Twitter.

Overall, just a quarter of contributors did not use any form of social media, indicating its importance as a marketing channel.

"These numbers are growing so fast that while we don't see social media, and Facebook in particular, as a huge driver of sales and traffic yet, it could soon be a game changer," said Larry Freed, Foresee's ceo.

In previous analysis from Foresee, Americans awarded Facebook a satisfaction score of 64 points, falling behind the web platforms of the top 40 retailers, with 78 points.

Having been asked to assess the presence of these retailers on Facebook, respondents decided upon an average of 80 points.

"This information could mean that while Facebook stumbles as a website, it provides retailers with a valuable customer touchpoint that can actually be very satisfying," Freed said.

Data sourced from Foresee; additional content by Warc staff