Three quarters of UK consumers expect retail brands and businesses to be using social media to improve their level of service according to a study commissioned by retail technology specialists HSO.

Of those surveyed, 39% of consumers admit to staying away from a brand if its social engagement is poor, regardless of channel.

The study found that 85% of consumers would anticipate a reply if they had posted a negative comment about a business, while 74% would also expect a reply if they posted a positive comment.

However, only 7% stated they would be confident of receiving a response from a retail brand when publishing a negative comment about a competitor.

According to the research, social media engagement improved consumers’ personal experiences with retailers. Of those who interacted online with a brand, 71% had a positive outcome, while 6% of the respondents classed their outcome as ‘poor’.

HSO’s sales director Hector Hickmott said: “The study highlighted that consumers expect brands to be engaging online, even though they may not always use this channel. It would be wise for retailers to be using social listening tools to support this function.”

While the study found customer’s social media experience to be generally good, 61% of respondents preferred to get in touch with a brand via email. Phone calls were the second most popular method with 19% of respondents, and social interaction was the least favourite method with 10% of the vote.

The study revealed that a variety of customer experiences posted on social media, ranging from disappointment at the lack of discrete gift packaging when ordering a luxury food product online to a dissatisfied restaurant diner, were successfully resolved by the business in question.

One consumer said: “Posting on social media is often a quicker way to get a response from a brand as they don’t want to damage their online reputation and it’s open to the public. I couldn’t get hold of a brand on the phone but received a tweet reply with the right number to call a few hours after tweeting them.”

Hickmott said: “Consumers are using social media engagement for a number of reasons, from complaining about products to finding out further information. It is vital that retailers engage in the right way to enhance public perception, with many consumers admitting they would leave a brand if their social media activity was not engaging.”

The research discovered that 32% of consumers had purchased something online from a link that a brand had provided when responding to a purchasing query, representing a significant opportunity for engagement and sales.