August 5, 2011, 4:46 PM

Shopping turns social and mobile, a study says

Less than half of consumers go shopping without at least glancing at social networks.

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More than half of frequent web shoppers turn to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter at least some of the time to gather ideas for shopping, according to new research from consulting firm The E-tailing Group Inc. However, only 3% said they use social tools as their starting point in researching purchases.

The findings, based on an April survey of 1,004 adult consumers, also highlight the emergence of mobile as a shopping tool, with at least a third of respondents likely to use their smartphones to check and compare prices while shopping inside bricks-and-mortar stores.

The findings come from the 2011 Social Shopping Study, sponsored by PowerReviews, a vendor of product review software.

16% of respondents said they often or always read and research products on social sites, while 13% said they sometimes do and 22% said they rarely turn to social media to generate ideas. That leaves 49% of respondents who said they never use social sites for shopping ideas.

Even with the popularity of social media, 44% of respondents who shop for branded products start their research at a search engine. 33% said they go directly to retailer sites that they know sell the desired product, while 20% said they visit manufacturer sites. 2% start by asking for recommendations from members of their social network, while 1% said they pose a question on Twitter.

The survey also shows that consumers are turning to Google Shopping, the comparison shopping arm of the search engine that includes prices from multiple retailers and product reviews. 31% said they use Google Shopping to compare prices, 29% said they read product reviews and 22% said they use it to find local retailers that have the product they want.

79% of the survey respondents said they conduct at least half of their product research online before making a purchase, up from 50% of respondents who said the same last year. 15% of respondents said they spent 90% or more of their research time online.

The survey also measured the impact web-enabled smartphones are having on the way consumers research products. When asked to think about the product purchases they made during the last three months, 33% of respondents said they had used their mobile phones to check for sales and specials, 32% had checked product ratings and reviews on their phones and 31% had checked prices on Amazon.com. 26% used their phones to check if a store had a specific product in stock.

Consumers don’t abandon their web-based product research when they enter stores, the survey found. 38% of consumers said they are likely to use their mobile phones to look for promotional coupons that they can redeem with a retailer while they are in that retailer’s store. 36%  said they are likely to do a price check on Amazon.com while in a store and 35% said  they are likely to scan a bar code to compare prices offered by other retailers. 33% say they’ll check the retailer’s price on its mobile site while in the store. And 25% say they’re likely to buy from an e-retailer while standing in the aisles of another, which means e-retailers have the opportunity to clinch sales up until the moment a clerk starts scanning items.

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