Champions for online retail cite the potential to cut logistics and staffing costs, whilst allowing retailersto personalise their offerings, foster loyalty and build CRM. These days, some retailers are little more than well-disguised data companies.

Champions for online retail cite the potential to cut logistics and staffing costs, whilst allowing retailers to personalise their offerings, foster loyalty and build CRM. These days, some retailers are little more than well-disguised data companies.

For others, in-store foot traffic, where consumers move among meticulous layouts and tempting offers, is more important. For these retailers, feet on the ground are simply more valuable than lines in a database.

However, the distinction of having to choose online or offline belongs in the past.

Social media – only really widespread for the last few years and maddeningly idiosyncratic – has allowed retailers to try a different type of online brand building. Facebook reaches 82% of the population, after all.

There’s always been a logical but unproved connection between a strong social media presence and increased awareness, loyalty, store visits and sales. With some caution, social has become an accepted, if nebulous, part of the marketing mix. Trust us that it works, intuition says, and we’ll figure out the rest later.

Well, the rest has now been figured out.

Ikea has become the first retailer to produce empirical numbers linking advertising on Facebook to foot traffic in store. Conducted by marketing agency Aegis companies Vizeum and iProspect, the recent study anonymously matched Facebook ads data against EE geo-fencing data to measure the comparative footfall of some 350,000 people, equally divided into who had and had not been exposed to Ikea advertising.

What they found was that footfall increased a remarkable 11%, peaking at a huge 31% among the critical younger audience, and representing an ROI of 6:1. And whilst this may only be one result, the variables are incredibly well-controlled – meaning that the learnings should be more or less universal.

To us, this feels like a landmark: the closing of a loop, and the concrete answer to a long-burning question. Our hope is that it excites other retailers thinking about their social game – about how they might respond to proof that social ads can play a significant role in boosting the high street.

Phillip Dyte, Paid Social Media Manager, iProspect