Much fuss has been made about the power of social media to drive sales. Studies have shown that Facebook drives the most (mainly because it has the most users), Pinterest is very rapidly catching up and Twitter doesn't drive much. And while they all send some traffic to e-commerce sites, the amount of shopping that actually takes place as a direct result of a social media link is actually pretty insignificant.
At least that's what a new study by the omnichannel experts at RichRelevance say. An analysis of 700 million shopping sessions revealed that social shopping accounts for less than 1% of all online shopping sessions.
Still, retailers seem either unaware of this fact or very hopeful that that number can increase. For a while, retailers anticipated that Facebook would become a major e-commerce driver (remember Facebook stores?), and people still talk about the strength of Pinterest as a sales-driver and its future as an e-commerce platform. Topshop, for instance, just used the platform to launch its holiday gift guide.
A study published by L2 in August found, similarly, that fashion brands in the "affordable luxury" category have failed to accrue new customers through social media. Over the past four years, less than 0.25% of new customers have been acquired through Facebook and less than .01% from Twitter. It also found that shoppers who are acquired through social media aren't very valuable as they tend to spend less money over time.
The logical takeaway from this data is that brands shouldn't be spending a significant portion of their resources on social media if they're looking to directly increase sales. Of course, social media is still valuable in terms of increasing awareness and getting across a brand's message. Not that there aren't hurdles to that as well -- a recent report in WWD detailed how crowded the social media space gets around the holidays when brands release their campaigns.
Social media is tricky, but can have a pretty big payoff when done right. J.Crew, for instance, made major headlines when it decided to decided to release its fall catalog on Pinterest, as did Burberry when it released looks from its Spring 2012 collection first on Twitter. Many brands have amassed followings across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram in the millions -- and that's millions who are voluntarily seeing, liking and sharing their marketing messages every day.