Despite the arsenal of digital marketing tactics now at every retailer’s fingertips, one customer acquisition tactic still stands above the rest: paid search programs. According to the 2014 Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR) State Of Retailing Online study, which surveyed 81 retailers in May and June 2014, search engine marketing is lauded by 85% of retailers as one of the most effective customer acquisition tactics. In fact, retailers spend more of their interactive marketing budgets on paid search programs than on any other tactic, and four out of five retailers surveyed are also spending more on pay-for-performance search placement this year than last. 

“While much of the groundwork has been laid for perfecting paid search and how well it works for retailers’ customer acquisition goals, the fact of the matter is that retailers still have plenty of opportunities to learn more about their customers’ needs,” said Executive Director Vicki Cantrell. “As customer touchpoints expand, retailers continue to investigate other ways to diversify their marketing spend, including budgeting for increased spend for text advertisements, display ads, social, and attribution models.” 

To acquire new customers, retailers also cited organic traffic (41%), affiliate programs (40%), and remarketing/retargeting of shoppers in online ads (29%) as effective vehicles — all of which they’re also investing in more this year than last. Display ads are seeing something of a resurgence: Specifically remarketing, retargeting, and behavioral targeting ranked among retailers’ leading customer acquisition tactics, and display ads now collectively rank as the second-highest area of marketing spend behind paid search. 

Mobile And Social Marketing Still A Work In Progress 

While online retailers report increased marketing spend dedicated to mobile in 2014, the focus remains on fundamentals like email. In spite of email’s reputation as an antiquated form of communication, particularly among younger shoppers, email is proving its staying power. The survey found that, on average, 42% of retailers’ email opens now happen on smartphones, up from 28% in 2013, while email open rates on tablets grew from 16% to 17%.   

Social media is also getting increased attention from retailers. While Facebook may not be the direct moneymaker retailers originally hoped for, it is proving valuable for customer engagement. According to the survey, 62% of retailers surveyed plan to spend more on Facebook interactive marketing efforts this year than last. Additionally, nearly half of retailers surveyed say they will dedicate more spend to social sites such as Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter in the coming year.

“Thanks to the effectiveness and renewed budget focus on display advertising, Facebook cannot be counted out from a retail advertising stand point,” said Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. “People think of Facebook as a social network, but in reality it’s another medium for personalized display advertising — likely explaining why Facebook has surfaced so high in planned budget spend this year.”

About The Study  

The State Of Retailing Online research series, which provides eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals with annual industry benchmarks of marketing and business investment and activities, surveyed 81 companies. Industries surveyed included apparel, footwear, accessories, general merchandise, home furnishings, and personal care.

About, a division of the National Retail Federation, is the world’s leading community for digital retail, offering thought leadership through original research and gold-standard events. The community is made up of exclusive networking groups and committees that lead the global conversation surrounding innovative e-commerce trends and digital retail. members include some of the world’s largest and most respected retail, technology, research, and consulting companies.