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Social media not a major driver of sales, study finds


NEW YORK — Despite nearly half of shoppers using social media every day, less than one-fifth shop through them, according to a new study by PwC.

The study, "Demystifying the Online Shopper: 10 Myths of Multichannel Retailing," included a global survey of 11,000 shoppers in 11 countries, finding that of the 49% who use social media daily, 12% use them to shop, while 59% use them to follow, discover and provide feedback on brands and retailers. Overall, the study found, digital technology has changed the ways companies and consumers interact, but social media are not replacing the in-store experience. Forty-five percent of consumers continue to shop in brick-and-mortar stores, indicating that social media are not a major driver of traffic to online stores.

"Retailers should have realistic expectations when it comes to channels and devices, as shopping trends may not change drastically, and social media and tablets are likely not taking over any time soon, according to our survey respondents," PwC U.S. retail and consumer sector leader Susan McPartlin said. "While many forecasts point toward devices and social media dominating in retail, companies today need to utilize their multiple channels to engage with consumers and use social media as a marketing and communication tool to create value. Our report finds that the physical store remains the centerpiece of the purchase journey, while devices are used significantly for product research and deals."

The "myths" listed in the report were:

* Social media will soon become an indispensable retail channel. Instead, the report finds, social media aren't likely to become an important retail channel anytime soon and are currently a driver for more shopping across all channels.

* Stores will mainly become showrooms. The physical store remains the centerpiece of the purchase journey, the report found.

* The tablet will overtake the PC as the preferred online shopping device. The report found that tablets and smartphones are typically used in the store while shopping, i.e. at the end of the purchase journey.

* As the world gets smaller, global consumers are becoming more similar. Retailers still need to cater to local trends and account for differences in consumer behavior.

* China is the future model for online retail. While China is at the forefront of some key trends, its multichannel and online model is unique to the culture.

* Domestic retailers will always enjoy a "home field" advantage over global retailers. In fact, the report found, foreign retailers are making inroads into consumers' lists of favorite multichannel retailers, but still must keep in mind that they compete with local and global retailers alike.

* Global online pure players will always enjoy a scale advantage over their domestic counterparts. Many domestic online pure players are holding their own as they have better access to local market knowledge, the report found.

* Retailers are inherently better positioned than brands because they're closest to consumers. Consumers are shopping directly from manufacturers and many no longer distinguish between retailers and their favorite brands, according to the report.

* Online retail is cannibalizing sales in other channels. Consumers were found to spend more with their favorite multichannel retailers, as opposed to just shifting some purchases to other channels.

* Low price is the main driver of customer spend at favorite retailers. Customers, the report found, value quality and innovative brands over price when shopping at their favorite multichannel retailers.

"A multichannel retail strategy can be extremely advantageous," PwC retail and consumer sector advisory leader Lisa Feigen Dugal said. "The more minutely retailers can identify how consumers are utilizing the different channels, the more success they will have."

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