How social media inspiration will drive sales this Christmas

Thought Leadership
In this post, GlobalWebIndex‘s Strategic Insights Analyst, Olivia Valentine analyses the growing influence of social media on consumer purchase behaviour and how it will affect retailers this Christmas.

2018 has been one of the biggest years for developments in the social media space yet, especially in the realms of e-commerce. In the last few months alone – and just in time for the festive period – we’ve seen Instagram scale-up and roll out its shopping capabilities with the ability to purchase via tags in Stories, and Pinterest has just made millions of Pins shoppable, with up-to-date pricing and information. With this shift in focus, it’s no wonder that social media’s role is no longer merely “social”.

As the key platforms gain this momentum in the commerce space, could this Christmas shopping period be social media’s most influential so far? As part of a bespoke study by GlobalWebIndex, we asked 2,200 internet users in the UK and U.S questions around the role of social in purchasing behaviours this Christmas. Here’s what we found out.

Social will impact gifting decisions this Christmas
3 in 10 strongly agreed that social media will play a role in their gift purchases this Christmas. This rose to almost 4 in 10 among millennials, which isn’t surprising given that the use of social media is now universal among this generation. And as ‘to get ideas for when I next go shopping’ and ‘to get inspiration for gifts’ were motivating just under 50% to follow brands on social media in the first place, it’s clear that many are on the lookout for inspiration whilst browsing their feeds – good news for brands hoping to leverage their following to drive sales in the next few months.

When we asked consumers where social media content most influencers their purchase decisions, food and drink emerged as the top category, followed closely by gifts for others, again showing how content can truly inspire consumers gifting decisions.

Targeted ads from brands are still most impactful to build awareness
It’s not news that the digital ad space is crowded, or that ad-blocking is on an upward trend, with frustration the driving force. But when we asked consumers how they have discovered new brands or products on social media, it was direct targeted advertising from the brand that emerged as the most impactful for all age groups, influencing at least 1 in 2 across the board. This traditional digital advertising technique will already be a staple in Christmas strategies, but this only affirms its future success.

The competition for the best Christmas ad – to be watched across media channels – has become fiercer in past years, with consumers eagerly awaiting the storytelling from the biggest retailers on the high street. In 2017 John Lewis’s Christmas ad reached 20 million views on Facebook and YouTube within the first three days of release, for example, and the company’s 2018 ad starring Elton John reached millions online in its first 24 hours.

The strength of influencer marketing as a channel for spreading brand awareness shone through too, especially among millennials; 54% said they discovered a new brand or product through sponsored posts with deliberate promotion, 53% via recommendations on social media, and 41% through celebrity posts.

This reiterates that a one-size-fits-all policy isn’t necessarily optimal for all brands. A mix of traditional social advertising, alongside word-of-mouth marketing and influencers, will be the best strategy to guarantee engagement this Christmas – all with the target audience in mind. M&S is one UK brand that’s hoping to success this Christmas with a cross-channel strategy. Aside from its yearly TV spot, this year the brand has moved forward with a mobile-first mind, including shoppable Instagram posts and programmatic ads. And this social strategy is going to be especially key for online-only retailers, like ASOS, who can’t rely on instore discovery.

In-platform purchases are few, but a third are clicking through to buy
So, we know that social media acts as a point of discovery and inspiration, but where do consumers head next? When we asked, it was the more traditional, one-stop shop experiences that consumers continue to favour after discovering brands/products on social media. As many as two-thirds said they had completed a purchase on Amazon, while 4 in 10 said they went to buy in a physical store.

Click-throughs inserted into posts on social media, linking to the brand’s website or to products displayed, are a really great way to close the loop on the consumer purchase journey – and they’re a win-win for everyone. They increase website traffic for brands, provide a return for the social platforms, and allow consumers to make impulse purchases. The ability to click-through has proven to be a popular feature among consumers too: a third of those discovering brands on social media said they had clicked through to purchase.

As the opportunities to buy products within social platforms are still limited, it certainly says a lot for the future of native social shopping that a third of those discovering on social have made a purchase there. Facebook, in particular, has made a headway with its shopping-enabled ads across its platforms. The perceived security of this method is a challenge to overcome, though, and will continue to be, especially when there are other alternatives available.

There’s no doubting the ongoing importance of offline retail during the festive season, but as shopping becomes increasingly digital, social media is set to have a bigger impact than ever before this Christmas. The key for brands is to build out a solid social strategy that capitalises on social media’s growing commerce initiatives. After all, we know that social offers the chance to have an impact at all stages of the purchase journey – from gift inspiration and discovery all the way through to drive to purchase – it’s just about connecting the dots.