The impact of social media on a company's bottom line is tough to quantify, with no hard data on how millions of Facebook fans and Twitter followers translate into sales for stores. But during the holiday shopping season, a roughly two-month period when retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue, stores are uncovering a valuable use for all the seemingly useless online muttering: market research.The result is that whenever folks press the "like" button to give their seal of approval for a particular company's page or make a comment on how much they like the leather boots they just bought, they're helping everyone from independently owned small shops to the nation's biggest retailers make decisions about what products to stock up on, what to play up on the sales floor and what promotions to offer online.
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