Study: Posts on Facebook Almost Never Lead to Retail Sales

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Social media has been described as having an “enormous influence” on consumer behavior. A 2011 Nielsen study found that roughly one-quarter of all time spent by Americans on the web is devoted to sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tumblr, and that 70% of active online networkers shop online. Yet new research suggests that less than 1% of online purchases can be traced back to something the shopper saw posted on social media.

Social media may be transforming the way people interact with each other. But, at least for the time being, it doesn’t seem to be having much of a direct impact in how consumers decide to buy things.

In a new study from Forrester Research, analyst Sucharita Mulpuru presents some surprising—and what would seem to be contradictory—data:

Forty-eight percent of consumers reported that social media posts are a great way to discover new products, brands, trends, or retailers, but less than 1% of transactions could be traced back to trackable social links.

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These factoids come from consumer surveys, as well as the tracing of 77,000 online purchases made by American consumers over a two-week span in April. What researchers found is that consumers almost never buy something right after seeing it mentioned in a post by a friend or retailer on Facebook or other social media outlets.

Instead, consumers who are making a first-time buy with an e-retailer were far more likely to originate their purchase via a direct visit to the site (20%), or an organic or paid search (16% and 11%, respectively). For repeat shoppers, 30% of online purchases begin with an e-mail from the retailer. (No wonder retailers flood customers with e-mails.) Another 30% of repeat customer searches start with a direct visit to the retailer’s site.

“We’ve known for awhile that Facebook hasn’t been a direct sales channel for most companies and it never will be,” says Mulpuru, the study’s author, via InternetRetailer.com “Hopefully we can put that conversation to rest now.”

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Nonetheless, Mulpuru says that exposure on social media sites can “amplify a brand or a product.” It’s possible that repeatedly seeing a product highlighted on Facebook could slowly sway a consumer into making a purchase. This sort of influence is difficult to measure. It’s almost subliminal. But there’s influence there, no doubt about it.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

6 comments
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Facebook is really one of the best social networking site today in the net. I'm not sure but I know that it is the 2nd or the 3rd site that is most visited by internet users. So it is not a surprise that Facebook is very useful in marketing.

Ayesha Khan
Ayesha Khan

Face Book is a social network, and among its different features it has advertising column also for those who wish to market their products. If the users while browsing come across any product, that appeals them they are under no restrictions to have complete access to that product. Face Book does not promise, or guarantee its clients for the sale of any product nor it can pressurize, or direct its users towards any particular product or service. Moreover, why is it that its always Face Book that comes in the lime light when any discrepancies occur. There are other networks too which are mentioned in the article. However, being on Face Book at least is an assurance of maximum viewership, and that's no small incentive---

Oil TradingAcademy
Oil TradingAcademy

Social media marketing is one of the best strategy to do advertising. People can really make money through that. But hey if you really want to make much money you should do oil trading. You can make as much as $200-$5000 per day. Want to know more? Come google Oil Trading Academy.

Steve032
Steve032

I hate Facebook and dont have an account but what this article fails to point out is that even if people did an organic or direct search on a product (and didnt click the FB ad directly) they STILL heard about the product on FB to begin with. Impossible to measure that kind of stat

Talendria
Talendria

There's also a possibility that people have learned to tune out advertisements.  Many years ago someone did a study on subliminal advertising.  It would be interesting to repeat the study and find out whether the results have changed.  I imagine the average person sees ten times as many ads today compared to five years ago, so our brains may be adapting to filter the unwanted input.

Brian Disbot
Brian Disbot

Fascinating. There's an article on Forbes that discusses the current tracking via ads of users on Facebook, what they buy off-line correlates through rewards cards enabling ads for purchases you would make in retail. While nobody would ever force anyone to buy a product, there still lies a talent in sales and advertisement. Everyone needs laundry detergent, but if Tide's ad appeals more to a customer in design or message than Gain, than Tide will be the product of choice for that consumer. Either way, it takes talent (more noteworthy, knowledge) to win over a customer.