October 4, 2012, 10:52 AM

Online shoppers still prefer e-mail for getting friends’ advice on purchases

E-mail a friend edged out Share buttons and other social options, a new study says.

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Social media may be all the rage when it comes to how retailers engage consumers, but e-mail still plays a crucial role when shoppers want to connect with friends before deciding what to buy online, according to new studies by research and advisory firm The E-tailing Group Inc. and by inSparq, a provider of software that enables e-commerce site visitors to share product information with friends via e-mail and social media

The E-tailing Group study, “The Connected Consumer 2012: Evolving Behavior Patterns,” was commissioned by Oracle Corp., a provider of e-mail management and other e-commerce and multichannel software. It was based on a May 2012 survey of 1,033 U.S. consumers who shop online at least four times a year and whose annual online purchases total at least $500.

When the survey asked respondents to name the most important social features on an online retailer’s product page that helped them decide on a purchase, e-mail a friend edged out social media options. The survey specifically asked consumers to   name the top two features they considered “critical/very important.”

20% named e-mail a friend, 19% cited a Share button for sharing product information on social networks, 16% said a Facebook Like button and 15% cited a link to the social network Pinterest.

The study also found that e-mail was the most common method consumers use to interact with merchants and consumer brand manufacturers. Following are the percentages of respondents who said they use the following activities “all the time/very often”:

● Sign up to receive e-mails from favorite retailers or brands, 41%

● Rate or review a purchased product, 29%

● Like an online retailer or manufacturer on Facebook, 22%

● Sign up to receive text messages, 21%

● Share via social media information on a product considering for purchase, 20%

● Share via social media information on products purchased online, 18%

In addition, the study found that 26% of respondents like the ability to view e-mails from retailers on a smartphone and occasionally make an online purchase via their phone after viewing a retailer’s message.

The report from inSparq, which was based on a review in September of retailers that use the company’s social-sharing software, found that e-mail accounts for 40% of online shares of product information made by e-commerce site visitors and generates an average of $11.35 in revenue per share. By comparison, inSparq found the following percentages of shares and revenue per share for the following social networks:

● Facebook, 26%, $11.35

● Pinterest, 19%, $2.50

● Twitter, 10%, $6.41

“As retailers are excited to embrace new social channels, they shouldn’t forget about traditional avenues like e-mail that still drive significant traffic and sales,” says Veronika Sonsev, CEO of inSparq. InSparq's  client base includes more than 500 retailers.

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