New Research Confirms Social Drives Sales

There is a longstanding debate in the retail space about the ability of social media to drive sales. Because many marketers still are struggling to track, analyze and respond to social feedback, it can be difficult to measure the ROI of social media.

New research from Vision Critical, however, is debunking social skeptics. According to a survey of 5,900 social media users in the U.S., UK and Canada, 40% of all social media users have purchased items online or in-store after sharing or “favoriting” them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. The survey also confirmed that social media drives approximately the same amount of sales both in-store and online.

“This is a huge percentage of the social media audience,” noted David Sevitt, VP of Consumer Insights at Vision Critical, and one of the writers of the report. The fact that social networks influence sales across all channels “is a real wake-up call for executives.” 


Additional findings were presented in a white paper, titled: From Social To Sale, to better understand the unique browsing and buying behaviors of consumers while they’re on specific social media sites.

Facebook motivated the most consumers (38%) to complete transactions online and in-store after they shared the product with followers, according to the Vision Critical survey. Despite being a newer addition to the social universe, Pinterest also helped influence purchases. As many as 29% of consumers indicated that they bought a product after “pinning” it on the social site. Only 22% of survey respondents completed a transaction after “tweeting,” “retweeting” or “favoriting” a product on Twitter.  

The growing popularity of Pinterest has ignited a new shopping behavior: “reverse showrooming,” which is defined as the act of browsing online, and then buying offline. In fact, this shopping tactic is becoming more popular among social-savvy consumers. More than one quarter (26%) of consumers engage regularly in showrooming, according to the survey. Yet 41% said they participated regularly in reverse showrooming.

“Instead of feeling threatened by ‘showrooming’,” Sevitt explained, “retailers should study their customers’ paths to purchase and use the insights gained to hone their online marketing efforts.”

For example, half of respondents said they purchased a product after “pinning” an item on Pinterest, even if they didn’t research the item previously. Impulse purchases through Pinterest, Sevitt explained, are driven by the connection between product images and detailed product information, which confirms the need for retailers to create a seamless brand experience across all channels.

“One of the main reasons why social can turn into sales is the availability of additional product information,” Sevitt said. “On Pinterest, retailers can embed links and/or more detailed information on these ‘pinnable’ images.”

Facebook and Twitter, however, play a more influential role in converting consumers who are already considering specific products. Retailers can use the two social network effectively, Sevitt explained, by “targeting outreach to people most likely to purchase an item within a specific window of time.”

Although the research encourages retailers to further invest in social marketing efforts, businesses need to adjust their tactics based on the subtle nuances that come with specific verticals or products, according to Sevitt.

The top categories of activity by network include:


  • Heath information (44%);
  • Humor and human interest (36%);
  • Cooking and dining (36%);
  • Technology (31%);
  • DIY and crafts (29%); and
  • Fashion and beauty (19%).


  • Heath information (51%);
  • Humor and human interest (46%);
  • Cooking and dining (42%);
  • Technology (44%);
  • DIY and crafts (34%); and
  • Fashion and beauty (30%).


  • Cooking and dining (66%);
  • DIY and crafts (63%);
  • Heath information (59%);
  • Humor and human interest (51%);
  • Fashion and beauty (45%); and
  • Technology (33%);

Sevitt concluded that the implication for retailers is “they need to develop specific strategies for each category and/or product, understand which networks are best fit, and develop strategies from there.”


Click here to download the From Social to Sale white paper.

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