CHICAGO: Retailers are failing to engage with consumers attempting to reach them via social channels and are potentially losing business as a result, a new survey has said.

The Q4 2015 Sprout Social Index analysed more than 255m messages sent over the preceding year from 119,000 active public social profiles and reported that more and more consumers are contacting retailers on social.

The social media solutions company predicted that this holiday season the average retailer could expect over 1,500 inbound social messages, up almost 20% on last year.

But it also found that people are failing to receive a prompt response from retail brands on social media 83% of the time. And the few who do hear back had to wait an average of 12 hours.

Retailers only responded to one in six messages that warrant a response – and during the busy holiday season, Sprout added, they respond even less.

This is because retailers tend to choose promotions over customer service, sending out three times as many promotional messages – deals, coupons and product merchandising – as they do helpful responses.

"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."

In fact, Sprout's research indicated that consumers were seven times more likely to respond to a retailer's promotions after it had interacted with them in some meaningful way.

It also identified a possible misdirected focus, as retailers were sending three times more messages on Twitter even as their incoming messages there have trended downward; inbound messages on Facebook, in contrast, have increased.

Data sourced from Sprout Social; additional content by Warc staff