How do you think social media influences what people buy? If you believe a recent report on the influence of social media on shopping this past holiday season, the answer is not much. As the article said:
online shoppers mostly ignored social channels as purchase influencers,according to survey results from Baynote. Pinterest and Twitter influenced online and in-store purchases for just 1 in 10 shoppers surveyed, with Facebook garnering only slightly more interest. Instead, online ratings and reviews were most likely to influence both online and in-store purchases (33% and 24%, respectively), with Google search results including a pictured product available by the retailer coming in next for online purchases (26%) and paper catalogs (21%) second for in-store purchases. Not surprisingly, social channels were most influential among younger consumers (aged 25-34), while paper catalogs got the attention of the 45+ crowd.
This was accompanied by another piece which announced that “only 2% of traffic to retailers during the holiday season came from social networks, per figures released by Adobe Systems.” The article then goes on to say “Adobe isn’t the first to detail social media’s rather small influence over the holiday season.”
I could be wrong about this but given that Adobe is the parent company of one of the large analytics firms, I’m assuming they looked for traffic into shopping carts from social media. Their question – is social media converting into sales – isn’t the right one. How about “does social media influence sales?” I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of what’s on Pinterest is aspirational – something the user wants or acknowledges as desirable. Maybe it’s a place people use to research gifts for friends? You will have a hard time convincing me, just based on what crosses my Twitter stream and Facebook news feeds, that people aren’t researching purchases via social media.
The Baynote data is a survey – let’s always remember that what people say and what they do sometimes don’t align. That said, I think taking “catalogs” as a whole while segmenting digital into pieces (search vs. social vs online stores) is a bit misleading. It also doesn’t reflect how users may begin with a search, move over to social to check out their connections’ thinking on what they’ve found, and then their use of the online store to buy, perhaps several days (and sessions) later.
Given the continuing and impressive growth of online shopping during the last holiday season I’m a believer in social as a influence. People spend more of their lives online and that includes shopping. Maybe these folks are asking the wrong questions. I’m sure they’d have just as hard time proving that TV or print resulted in the conversions they’re discussing yet very few people deny those media have an impact. What do you think?