The more people use social media websites, the more they are inclined to and will shop online, University of Maryland researchers found in a recent study.
The study followed the online activities of almost 10,200 people for one year and tracked three specific components: individual online purchase records, full web-browsing history and demographic information.
Michael Trusov, a marketing professor, and Yuchi Zhang — a marketing professor at Santa Clara University who received his doctorate from this university — were two of the study's four authors. The research, which began in 2012, is the first known study to associate individual-level e-commerce activities with the social network usage behavior of a large number of people.
"When you first think of Facebook and other social network platforms, you think of people sharing their personal lives, from pictures of cats to activities that they do," Zhang said. "But just browsing that activity can get people into the shopping mindset."
Over time, a person who is more active on social networks might also be exposed to a greater variety of shopping-related content posted by firms and friends, Trusov said, which could be another reason the correlation exists. On average, consumers spend about 30 percent of their internet time on social media and 8 percent online shopping.
Facebook and MySpace were the main social media sites tracked, along with various blogs. Besides finding a relation between social media usage and online shopping, the researchers also found that while the people who use social media the most shop online the most, they seem to do it more efficiently than those who don't use social media.
Right after social media usage, there is usually a decline in online shopping activity, which could be interpreted as bad news for online stores.
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"The people who use social media the most don't abandon shopping," Trusov said. "Quite the contrary — they buy products more often and from a greater variety of stores, but they seem to become better shoppers who can find what they want faster."
Sophomore information sciences major Cathlin Chiang said she uses social media daily and participates in online shopping about three times per week.
"I'm not big on shopping, but when I'm on social media, I see all these types of trends going on and a lot of ads for certain stores, which I will end up clicking on," Chiang said. But she added that while she clicks on the ads, she usually doesn't end up buying anything.
In the future, Zhang might expand his research to study the impact of newer social media sites — such as Instagram and Snapchat — on online shopping.
The way firms make advertising decisions based on social media users' shopping patterns will possibly change from this study, but Zhang doesn't think the results of the study will change any habits, he said.
"I think people will become more aware of how social media is affecting everyone, but I don't think any individual's behaviors will change, because there are multiple reasons why people like to go online shopping," Zhang said. "And social media usage is just one of them."