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Search engines, like Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), InterActiveCorp's (IACI) Ask.com and Microsoft's (MSFT) Live, are the primary driver of traffic to retailers. According to Bill Tancer at Hitwise, search engines account for 25% of the upstream traffic. That means 25% of the traffic that go to the more than 19,000 online retailers visit search engines first.

Even big-brand retailers rely on search engines for traffic. About 12% of Wal-Mart.com (WMT) traffic visited Google first, according to Hitwise.

But here's an interesting change and trend Tancer has spotted. Social networks, such as News Corp's (NWS) MySpace, are starting to drive traffic to retailers. In fact, Tancer says that 5% of traffic to retailers comes from social networks, with MySpace accounting for 2.5% of that traffic.

Here's where retailers are getting their shopping traffic from, according to Hitwise's Tancer:

Search 25%
Email 9%
Portal front page 4%
Social networks 5%

Source: Social Networks Now Driving Significant Retail Traffic