Online shopping has become the norm. But how are consumers using social media throughout the shopping process?
Editor’s note: Rebecca Brooks is founder and CEO of full-service market research consultancy Alter Agents. She is co-author of the shopper marketing book, “Influencing Shopper Decisions.”
While shopping behaviors have been steadily transforming for decades, the past two years sped up the rate of change exponentially. Not only has online shopping become the norm, but expectations have shifted surrounding things like customer service, product offerings, convenience and speed. But these aren’t the only shifts taking place in the shopper landscape – they are also researching every purchase, putting in the time to consult a wide number of sources before pulling out their pocketbooks.
When we set out to find just how much the “typical” purchase journey had changed, we surveyed 6,000 U.S. consumers who had recently made a purchase in one of six product categories. Turns out, the journey varies wildly by category (no surprise there), but we wanted to know more. We asked people where they were going for their information, and just how influential each source was when it came down to buying a product.
Social media and today’s shopper journey
One source in which we took particular interest was the use of social media by shoppers. The global social media audience tops over 4 billion users. We asked about their habits, how they use social media during the shopping process and which platforms they were using the most.
In our report, Shoppers and Social Media (registration required), we share some of the key findings. We found that:
- Sixty-three percent of our respondents used social media to research purchases before buying.
- Eighty percent of those with a higher income level, equaling $100K or more per year, were using social media for shopping.
- Men (71%) were using social media for shopping more than women (55%).
In addition, social media shoppers tended to consider their purchases more carefully and not impulse shop and were more likely to be eco-conscious when making purchases. On the other hand, these shoppers are spenders, not savers. Social platforms are critical in reaching these audiences to capture them, and their dollars, during the shopping experience.
How shoppers are using social media
Social media platforms serve a wide range of purposes for these audiences. Respondents report using specific platforms for everything from simple information gathering, such as reviews and product details, to collecting opinions from peers and influencers.
By category, we found that usage varied. For example, shoppers who are looking for self-improvement subscriptions, such as exercise, diet or meditation apps, find it to be a very valuable information source during the decision-making process. Those looking for everyday items, like coffee, household supplies or pet food, aren’t as likely to consult social media sources for information.
Behavior varies widely between age group and product category, underlining the need for targeted research to understand specific audience behaviors and needs.
Understanding the shopper journey: Next steps for brands
- This is not a “one and done” scenario. Just like everything else, we can expect that the way shoppers are interacting with social media during the purchase journey will continue to transform. This means that social media marketing strategies need formal, regular evaluation and close monitoring. The data is available. Make sure to take cues from it and shift when necessary.
- Focus advertising to your audience. Use a solid consumer insights approach to find out where your key target audiences are spending their time. Then meet your shoppers there – right on the apps or platforms where they are most likely to interact with your messages, or even with your products. Being in the right place will deliver greater value from your marketing spend. And this right place varies based on audience makeup and product category.
- Deliver the right type of content. People are looking for different things from different social media platforms, and each platform they consult serves a distinct purpose during the shopping journey. Do the research to find out what your audience members are looking for in your category, and where. Tailor your content to what shoppers want from each platform to best influence their decision in your favor.
The past decade, and especially the past two years, has seen an increase in social media’s role in our lives, as well as a transformation of the shopping journey. Studying the intersection of these two powerful parts of digital life is critical, and that means taking an approach to market research that focuses on consumer wants and needs and their behaviors, rather than brand-focused hypotheticals.
Social media is an important component of the shopper landscape and will continue to play an influential role in decision-making.