Social Media Commands Greater Role In Purchasing Decisions, New Ad Research Foundation Study Finds: “Always-on Shoppers” Widen Their Social Media Networks While Making Purchase Decisions

With retail sales up this past December, according to last week’s Commerce Department report, a new study from the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) suggests that much of the consumer spend was surely influenced by social media.

Given the proliferation of digital and social media, it didn’t take long for "likes" and tweets to affect dollars and cents for brands, as the ARF’s new study found that nearly one-third of shoppers said social media either introduced them to a brand/product they were previously unfamiliar with, or helped change their existing opinion of a brand during their buying decision process.

The study, Digital & Social Media in the Purchase Decision Process, found there is no single path to purchase for the 2,000 shoppers studied, and that social media plays an increasingly important role every step of the way, with 22 percent stating that social media was "important in my final purchase decision."

"One of the most important insights we generated is that consumers today are always on — being exposed to brands, and even engaging with them, throughout the course of their normal activities," said Todd Powers, executive vice president of primary research at the Advertising Research Foundation, in a news release. "This state of constant interaction with brands through digital and social media has come to challenge the purchase funnel, as we have traditionally understood it. This also challenges the notion that consumers are aware of the influences on their purchase decisions, and that they always make decisions consciously.

The five-month study by the ARF also included a number of outside researchers and sponsors, including GM, Google, Kraft, The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Motorola, Firefly/ Millward Brown, comScore, Converseon, Communispace and the advertising agency Y&R.

Survey panel members indicated that they substantially widened their circle of "trusted" people online to help guide them in making a purchase. Social media also plays an important role in the post-purchase process, according to the ARF. The study found that consumers get most excited just after their final purchase, with "joy" being the predominant emotion expressed socially.

Powers says consumers prefer shopping on their own terms when it comes to time and place, and want to feel confident they’re in control of the process. They want to be equipped with all the information they need to be the seller’s equal in the purchase process, and they ultimately want to feel triumphant after a purchase.

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