Survey: Shoppers’ Use Of Social Media Drops, But It Remains Vital To Those Who Use It

  • Other tools — search engines, coupons, retailer emails, etc. — have more overall users, but people who use social media to shop are more apt to be swayed by that use, Epsilon survey finds.

    The use of social media as a consumer shopping aid appears to be slowing — or at best remaining flat — compared to other digital tools, according to a new survey by digital marketing company Epsilon. The survey also found reason for retail and brand marketers to stick with social, given high levels of influence that it exerts on its passionate users.

    There’s a long list of tools that consumers use more often than social media when looking to buy products — retailer websites, printable coupons, retailer emails, search engines, brand emails, daily deal sites, etc. Social media posts from friends checks in all the way down in 14th position. Social media from brands and retailers is below that as this chart from Epsilon’s 2015 Digital Shopping Tool Impact Study shows:


    Epsilon’s findings are based on an online survey of 2,800 U.S. consumers during the fourth quarter of 2014. The brand and retailer social totals are lower than those from a similar survey Epsilon conducted last year. Then brand social had 18% penetration and retail had 16%. But Epsilon added a “friend social” category for this year’s study, which likely accounts for some of the drop, according to Kim Finnerty, Epsilon’s senior vice president for Research and Insights. Finnerty explained further via email:

    “The usage of social tools actually appears to have dropped a bit from previous years, but I have some concerns about differences in the surveys. We have added tools each year as we identify new tools (e.g., mobile payment was added last year) or as we ‘re-classify’ our understanding of how people think about the tools (so, we broke out ‘friend social’ for the first time this year to try to account for the fact that much of the use of social in shopping is actually based on friends’ posts rather than brand- or retailer-sponsored activity).

    “In 2013, brand social was 18% and retailer social was 16%, but I think it’s possible that some or all of the drop may be accounted for by people now selecting the friend social option that wasn’t available then. That’s why, in general, I’ve stayed away from comparing some year-over-year numbers of specific tools when the context of how we asked about those tools has changed a bit.

    “All that said, I think it’s safe to say that this year’s study did surprise me because it doesn’t indicate the kind of growth in social media I would expect given the passion for it among the people who use it.”

    But Marketers Shouldn’t Give Up On Social Media

    So is Epsilon suggesting marketers pull back from social?

    Definitely not, Finnerty said. A retailer might reach more people with digital coupons or effective SEO that leads back to its website, but there are people it will likely miss without also using social media. And those people might convert at higher rates than the people who say they use digital coupons or business’ websites for shopping.

    That’s the conclusion Epsilon drew from survey results that measured the influence of the digital shopping tools. Epsilon gave each of the tools an “impact” score based on responses to questions such as “it’s led me to try new brands,” “it influences my choice of stores,” “it influences my choice of brands,” “I make more unplanned purchases,” “I spend more than I initially planned,” “it makes shopping easier,” “it makes shopping more fun” and “I feel like a smart shopper.” Based on the impact measure, the results for social media were much better, ranking among the highest tools. Retailer social was tied at the top with Price comparison sites at 35%. Brand social was at 33% and friend social was 26%. On the other hand, the impact score for search engines was 30% and retailer sites was 28%.

    Here’s the full impact chart:


    To round out its quantitative survey results, Epsilon also interviewed 50 consumers about how they use digital tools for planning and executing shopping trips. The big takeaway? The consumer journey is complicated and there’s a lot of overlap between tools. “I think the biggest overall takeaway for me from actually participating in the qualitative was just how complex and individual the shopping process has become,” Finnerty said. “That is not obvious from the quant[itative] study because we are asking about each individual tool in isolation. In practice, shoppers are using these tools in very intertwined behaviors.

    “For instance, one woman told us about a retailer that she never shopped at before. She began to notice sponsored tweets from them, then later a friend posted about a purchase there so she asked her friend on Facebook about the retailer and got a positive review, so she went to their website, signed up as a member, got a coupon in her email box and went to the mall to shop and redeem it. And during the course of one day or one week, the same shopper will use different tools in different combinations for different shopping trips.”

    You can download the full Epsilon report here. It’s free, other than the exchange of your email address.

    About The Author

    Martin Beck is Third Door Media’s Social Media Reporter, covering the latest news for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. He spent 24 years with the Los Angeles Times, serving as social media and reader engagement editor from 2010-2014. A graduate of UC Irvine and the University of Missouri journalism school, Beck started started his career at the Times as a sportswriter and copy editor. Follow Martin on Twitter (@MartinBeck), Facebook and/or Google+.

    (Some images used under license from


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