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Study evaluates impact of social networks, group buying on shopping

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As retailers – or, in my case, those who observe the industry at close hand – we’ve discussed, debated and tested numerous aspects of social commerce over the past three or four years. I’d argue that the online social media phenomenon started in the really, really early days of the Internet with the likes of listservs and message boards, progressing to things like the (circa 1998) eBay forum where customers could post questions and other customers could answer and comment on those (yes, I am dating myself here). After subsequent years of “one to one marketing” and “personalization” mantras, the analyst in me says the Facebook / Twitter / blog / Groupon / etc. incarnations of social media have brought us back to a more realistic way of shopping – some solo shopping in pajamas happening late at night, to be sure, but a fair bit of shopping also happening in the company of friends and family, even if not physically in the same place.

Last year, Peter Leech of Social Shopping Labs spoke with us at about probing how online consumers use social media for shopping purposes specifically. What, he mused in a subsequent two-part blog post, are consumers actually doing when it comes to following retailers on Facebook and Twitter, reading retailer blogs, participating in group buying activities, and myriad other aspects of social commerce? What about consumer views and interaction with group buying sites and location based and mobile services? After teaming up to ask those very questions, Social Shopping Labs, comScore, and are pleased to release the results of the “2011 Social Commerce Study: Consumer Shopping via Social Media” ( members can download the full report from our site).

A couple of notes from what consumers told us:

  • About three-quarters of adult online consumers surveyed said they participate in some form of social media already. Half of these social media-involved consumers have followed a retailer proactively in at least one of the leading social media channels.
  • What do they want to hear about from retailers? Deals and coupons on the one hand, sure – but also product information, photos or videos, customer reviews, and current trends or ideas. These are natural precursors to actual purchases, so good content in social media channels is a now a retail must.
  • And if you think consumers are just browsing, guess again – for example, of consumers who follow a retailer via Facebook, over half said they had clicked through to the retailer’s site, while slightly fewer also browsed and/or posted comments about products or services. While fewer in number, Twitter users reported taking these same actions to even greater degree.
  • Fascinating to me is what mobile is doing for social (“mo-cial”?). Smartphone in hand, it’s so easy to post to your wall a photo of you in those new Manolos asking friends for feedback before you actually buy them, to wax poetic (in 140 characters or less, that is) about the latest app you just downloaded for your iPad2, or to comment on or share with others your favorite retailer’s “hot trends” blog post from earlier that day.
  • As for group buying, it is still a nascent area poised for growth. Overall awareness is high, even if actual purchases aren’t quite commensurate just yet. That said, well over a third of consumers who have made a group buying purchase reported already having spent up to $100 total – and men are more likely than women to have spent $250 or more on a group buying site.