Insight: Breaking down the likes – the UK high street retailers winning at social media – Red Hot Penny

  • Market share doesn’t guarantee effective social media performance, the top three high street retailers (M&S, Next and Primark) are ranked as tenth, 13thand 19thsocial media players
  • Fourth ‘best at social’ is street style favourite Dr Martens which is the UK’s top Instagram (IG) retailer for the combination of ‘real’ people wearing its iconic boots, product shots and influencer contributions, it’s got an IG post engagement of 1.77%
  • Power brand Nike has smashed it on all channels with huge numbers of people engaging with what it posts achieving 91% rating. However, the brand only posts when it’s got something to say, which tends to be when its sports stars are competing and its not afraid to go silent
  • High and Mighty is the UK’s worst retailer for social media achieving a lowly 9.52 %
  • Instagram engagement rates (0.779%) and average post engagements (11.2k) were higher than Facebook (0.084%, 545) or Twitter (0.062%, 206)

Red Hot Penny, the retail search marketing agency, has released its analysis, “The Social Scorecard: High Street Fashion & Accessories 2018” which examines the state of UK high street retailers’ social engagement.

The agency looked at 110 of the UK’s largest high street fashion and accessories retail chains, all of which have a physical presence at more than ten British locations. The brands’ Facebook, Instagram and Twitter activity was scrutinised and ranked along with follower numbers including those per UK store and post engagement rates. These were analysed to understand which brands are inspiring shoppers and which are struggling to find a digital voice.

The UK’s best high street retailers at ‘social’ are listed below

While there are massive global brands in the top ten, including Nike, Adidas, Diesel and Tommy Hilfiger, smaller brands such as Dr Martens and Lululemon see much higher engagement rates from social media followers than the global players. Dr Marten’s has superb Instagram engagement and Lululemon performs well on Twitter.

British brands M&S, Next and Paul Smith all perform well on social media. M&S (tenth, 77%) sticks to its tried and tested formula of great food photography and showcasing of key clothing items, with its Instagram feed having a slightly more fashion savvy female focused edge. Next (13th, 71%) uses Instagram well mixing up regrams of influencer’s posts and its lookbook imagery. Paul Smith (16th, 70%). has a differentiated feel on each platform and good mix of high quality content including video/image/gifs etc.

These UK stores beat high street success stories Primark, (19th, 68%) Topshop (17th, 69%) and H&M (21st, 66%) which were let down by lower post engagement levels.

John Lewis could do with looking at its social media strategy and activation afresh, coming in at 27thwith a score of 62%. Middle England’s favourite is let down by a lack of editorial imagination and lacklustre re-posting of catalogue and look book imagery. However, on a customer service front John Lewis has empowered its social media customer support team. These cheery souls are responsive and able to troubleshoot, solving disgruntled customers’ problems.

Some of the most engaging brands on Instagram were ECCO, Topman and Timberland, whereas strong performers on Facebook and Twitter included Bon Marche, Edinburgh Woolen Mills and Wallis, all of whom don’t necessarily focus on a youth market.

Position Brand Master Score Total Followers
1 Nike 91.36              117,942,479
2 Adidas 84.52                58,884,855
3 Lululemon 83.89                  5,625,828
4 Dr Martens 83.80                  3,750,048
5 Urban Outfitters 82.54                11,162,852
6 Tommy Hilfiger 82.18                22,111,751
7 Guess 82.18                12,020,988
8 Diesel 79.75                  6,384,942
9 The Kooples 78.13                  1,460,916
10 M&S 77.41                  6,611,620
11 Timberland 75.43                10,004,733
12 Ralph Lauren 71.65                19,597,849
13 Next 70.84                  3,351,393
14 Zara 70.84                54,795,256
15 Burberry 69.85                37,594,598
16 Paul Smith 69.49                  1,257,846
17 Topshop 69.13                14,962,799
18 Hollister Co. 68.95                16,945,187
19 Primark 67.69                11,698,048
20 Levi’s 67.15                30,484,302
21 H&M 65.71                69,755,635
22 Foot Locker 65.17                  4,302,648
23 Mango 63.91                20,065,115
24 Barbour 63.10                     948,522
25 Quiz 62.02                  1,147,901
26 Dorothy Perkins 61.93                  1,728,159
27 John Lewis 61.66                  2,071,567
28 Sports Direct 61.21                  2,685,187
29 Topman 61.21                  1,865,365
30 River Island 60.85                  4,675,917
31 Schuh 60.76                     793,021
32 Karen Millen 60.58                     581,755
33 Ben Sherman 59.59                     352,487
34 Gant 59.23                     607,043
35 Gap 59.14                12,230,995
36 Debenhams 58.96                     950,479
37 ECCO 57.61                  2,024,381
38 Ted Baker 56.98                  1,855,836
39 Joules 56.44                     709,174
40 Superdry 56.35                  2,524,087
41 Oasis 55.27                     568,776
42 Bravissimo 55.18                     142,868
43 New Look 54.55                  5,513,157
44 All Saints 54.37                  1,667,733
45 Matalan 53.74                     778,257
46 Oliver Bonas 53.65                     362,060
47 Hackett 53.56                     406,039
48 Wallis 53.29                     191,458
49 Laura Ashley 52.75                     697,485
50 Charles Tyrwhitt 52.39                     303,757


Unsurprisingly, the brands at the top of the rankings are those who really know their audiences and who engage them in a natural way. Lululemon consistently has activity that’s well thought out and inspirational which speaks directly to the needs of its stylish fitness fanatic audience.

While the established players tend to have the most followers, their engagement rates were often far below newer brands. These big retailers also had much more visible negative customer experience complaints. There seems to be a critical mass of 250,000 Facebook followers at which posted engagement and comments switches from being positive to negative. At this point, brands’ Facebook platforms seem to be perceived by customers as a customer service channel.


By value, UK supermarkets now account for 10% of UK clothing retail. However, their social media engagement is underwhelming, and although they have created standalone accounts for their clothing brands, George only came 67thin our study with 47%, while its Facebook activity and engagement is pretty solid its twitter and Instagram posting is unimaginative. F&F from Tesco scored 35% bringing it in at 88thand Sainsbury’s Tu came 91stwith 34%.

Be Charming

Instagram engagement rates (0.779%) and average post engagements (11,211) were higher than Facebook (0.084%, 545) or Twitter (0.062%, 206). This is probably caused by Instagram’s visual nature which makes it naturally suited to fashion and accessories content. The channel is also more popular with younger people.

Magazine vs catalogue

Established brands tend to feature much more of their own range on their channels treating the social platforms as a catalogue. Smaller, newer players however, were more editorial including memes and videos, driving up engagement rates. Urban Outfitters has an average twitter post engagement sore of 1,054, with one post with 24,000 engagements. Without this post the average would have been 90. The post with the engagement wasn’t a piece of clothing or fun meme. It was about a K-Pop album pre-launch.

Russ Powell, head of marketing, Red Hot Penny says “Chain retailers who can do social media well are going to be those who’ll ride out the high street’s hard times. Knowing what your customer wants and having it available at the right price has always been the key to retail success. On social media understanding both the platform you’re on and your shopper is key.

Beyond this the brands using social media effectively are those being interesting and aspirational. All brands need to have social media visibility, however, the very nature of social where it acts as a signifier of social standing means that very good retailers may under perform in terms of engagement. Social strategists for mass market, mass reach brands have to work much harder as these brands aren’t as aspirational. While someone may be an avid The Kooples fan they may be in reality a fiercely loyal Primark shopper but less likely to flag this publically.”

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