Santa knows social: Holiday shopping trends online

Posted by Brad Brief on December 11th, 2013 at 8:00 am

I remember when I was a kid and the wish list I wrote to Santa Claus was the most important document I would draft all year. It was my one chance to communicate with Santa, and I knew I had better get it right.

These days, Santa Claus has his own Facebook page, with over 150K likes no less, and apparently even the Santa Wish List can now be a two-way conversation. Yes, it appears social media is everywhere, even The North Pole.

But what impact does social media really have on shopping, which has become a focal point of the holiday season? The effect can certainly be debated, in part because of the role social plays within the purchase process. A recent IBM study of over 800 retailers showed social only driving 1 percent (http://mashable.com/2013/11/30/black-friday-statistics/) of Black Friday retail sales. However , this was based on sales driven from direct links from social media sites and didn’t take into account what appears to be the primary use of social media in holiday shopping: driving awareness and product consideration.

Interestingly, a Crowdtap study indicated 65 percent (http://digiday.com/brands/15-interesting-stats-social-shopping/) of consumers use social media to find the perfect gift for people. Fedelta research showed 74 percent (http://digiday.com/brands/15-interesting-stats-social-shopping/) of shoppers rely on social networks to make purchase decisions.

So if nearly three out of four people use social to make decisions, why would social only affect 1 in 100 holiday sales? It’s because social media is the place to find, discover and shop, but not necessarily to immediately go from a social network to making a purchase. The role of social appears to be higher in the purchase funnel. Even the IBM study notes that social networks "have a large indirect influence on shopping decisions by building brand and product awareness."

The social strategies used by marketers can play a significant role as well. If a brand is using social to drive engagement, increase likes and improve overall reach, it will most likely not see a retail spike unless there is a specific strategy to drive sales from social.

When social does drive sales, the shopping patterns have seen their own niches develop amongst a variety of platforms. As expected, Facebook leads in driving social users to retail sites (http://digiday.com/brands/15-interesting-stats-social-shopping/) with 60 percent of overall traffic, followed by the increasingly popular upscale shopping network Polyvore at 20 percent, and Pinterest at 15 percent. However, each platform also uniquely drove different retail transaction levels, with Polyvore’s average order value at $383, Pinterest's at $199, and Facebook's with the lowest at $92.27.

While the platform has an effect on social shopping, so too does the device with which users shop. Mobile couponing has become increasingly popular, with mobile offers being redeemed at 10X (http://thedigitalnirvana.com/2013/11/time-to-add-mobile-coupons/) those of print. Combine this with the fact that 65 percent (http://mashable.com/2013/10/24/content-consumption-desktop-mobile/) of the time consumers spend on social networks takes place on mobile, and marketers can expect to see the effect of social media on holiday shopping only becoming increasingly more impactful.

That said, maybe Santa will need a Social Community Manager someday. Given that he's managed to rack up 150K likes and attract an engaged fan base, perhaps he already has one.

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