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Search engines, like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), InterActiveCorp's (NASDAQ:IACI) Ask.com and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: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 (NYSE: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 (NASDAQ: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