A new study from JupiterResearch indicates that social sites do little to influence sales but can help with branding. Specifically, social and community sites influence only about 12% of online shoppers to buy more than planned.
About 53% of online shoppers go directly to a retail website to buy while 3% go to blogs first. That means that if you want to use user generated content to sell your products, you had best find a way to incorporate it directly into your retail site.
There are two things about social sites that make them unattractive to shoppers–inefficiency and lack of fundamental information. Shoppers are simply unwilling to wade through lots of biased and incomplete data on social sites. However, 29% say that they use social sites to reaffirm decisions.
JupiterResearch claims that retailers should use the affiliate model to maximize social site opportunities. That may well be true, but just think of the mess that will cause. I believe that social sites are going to be the new spam, full of useless, biased information that is placed there by clever retailers and their affiliates. It is conceivable that before long, online shoppers will have every reason to mistrust almost everything they read about specific products on social sites.
It is going to be very interesting to see how this shakes out. On the one hand, younger buyers value peer input more than more authoritative sources. On the other hand, peer input is quickly becoming useless because everyone seems to have an agenda. The social sites that are actually going to flourish and profit from product recommendations are going to have to spend a lot of resources on maintaining a high level of credibility.