Is social media a source of traffic to e-commerce sites and are these platforms capable of generating substantial purchase conversions?
Despite the intense marketer excitement about social media, Monetate finds that it's not a prime source of traffic to e-commerce sites, nor of purchase conversions.
Its Ecommerce Quarterly Report is based on anonymous aggregate data from Monetate's customers. The EQ analyzes a random sample of over 500 million online shopping interactions using same-store data across each calendar quarter.
In the current report on Q1 2013, the social media sites analyzed by Monetate - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, and LinkedIn - represented a mere 1.55 percent of all traffic to e-commerce websites, with a conversion rate of 0.71 percent. By contrast, direct URL entry and visits with no known referrer represented close to half of the more than 500 million visits analyzed.
The report does note that visits from native apps, for example, a mobile Facebook app, could be read as having no referrer.
Blair Lyon, VP of marketing, says that, later this year, Monetate will roll out the ability to test, optimize, and personalize mobile apps, and let customers synchronize their apps with their websites. "That will give us some additional data points," he says.
Brands that benchmark their social media efforts against direct response channels are taking the wrong approach, according to Mitch Joel, president of digital marketing agency Twist Image. Writing in the report, he says marketers should use social media to build awareness, so that when consumers are ready to click on search results or enter a URL into a browser, the brand will be top-of-mind.
In the report, Jay Baer, president of social media and content marketing consultancy Convince and Convert, adds, "Social media are inherently additive pieces of the conversion funnel, rather than causative." In other words, marketers should not expect social sites to send traffic directly to e-commerce.
Traffic from most social networks was flat or declining quarter-over-quarter, Monetate found, with the exception of Pinterest. Pinterest sent more than double the traffic to e-commerce sites that Twitter did, and the average order was $80.54, compared to $71.26 from Facebook, the next-highest source of traffic.
While most traffic to e-commerce sites is still dominated by traditional desktops and laptops, tablets showed the best conversion rate, compared to traditional devices and smartphones.
Although phone traffic was smallest and hardest to convert, Monetate found that mobile phones provided the highest average order size, with Android smartphones and iPhones almost on par. Phone order sizes slightly surpassed orders on Mac computers, while average order sizes on Android tablets crept up close to those on iPads.
A comparison of the add-to-cart rate by referrer found that the proportions of traffic contributed by email, search, and social media have remained relatively unchanged since the first EQ report in Q1 2012: email still rules.
"A lot of people are saying that email is dead. But social is improving at a decent percentage, but it is not driving direct add-to-cart referring rates the way that everyone has promised," Lyon says. Attribution to social media is complex, he adds. "There is attribution, but it's not last-touch attribution. There's been a lot of floundering about, and I don't think marketers have honed their craft in social media the way they have in email and search."
Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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