Months of lockdown and self-quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted virtually every area of daily life in 2020. Without being able to travel, dine out, or socialize in person, the “new normal” has meant that most Americans had to find new ways to unwind and entertain themselves. Many turned to the one place they could still go without worrying about exposure to the virus: the internet.
Increases in the amount of time people spent online combined with a dramatic shift in shopping habits forced people out of stores and onto the web to get everything from milk and produce to hand sanitizer and face masks. Online shopping between April 2019 and April 2020 increased by 208%, and social media platforms created new ways for businesses to reach consumers digitally.
So how many people are shopping through social media, and are they generally happy with their purchases? To find out, we surveyed 1,400 social media users about the products they bought online to find out how popular (and easy) it is to spend money through social media. Let’s take a closer look at how often ads on these platforms encourage people to shop; which platforms shoppers believe are the safest for spending money; and how much they’re spending, on average.
Spending Through Social Media
Nearly half of social media users had used the platforms for online shopping, and a majority of those purchases were inspired by a paid ad.
Nearly half of social media users (48%) reported making a purchase through a social media platform, and more than 2 in 3 (67%) of those shoppers indicated they made a purchase as a result of an ad they encountered. Digital advertising on social media is nothing new—in 2018, social media ad revenue eclipsed $100 billion for the first time.
Facebook was the most popular platform for shopping and the most likely to inspire someone through an ad for a product. Thirty-four percent of users indicated shopping via Facebook, and 47% said they purchased because of an ad. While Instagram shopping was slightly less common than Facebook, 23% of users said they purchased on Instagram, and 41% said their purchase was due to an ad. Far less popular, fewer users indicated shopping on Twitter (4%), Snapchat (3%), or TikTok (3%).
Most commonly, users said they clicked on the ad and made their purchase on a different website (63%), followed by users who clicked on a post from a brand (48%) or viewed a post from a friend and purchased directly through the social media platform (29%). Despite the popularity of social media influencers, just 21% of users said they made a purchase after clicking the link in an influencer’s bio. Compared to 88% of users who said a brand’s content inspired their purchase or 48% citing social groups, just 37% of users said an influencer encouraged them to make a purchase.
Whether shopping on an external site (91%) or directly through a social platform (54%), most users were happy with the process (82%) and the item(s) purchased (88%). A sign of any good shopping experience, 67% of users said they planned on making future purchases through social media.
Social Trust When Spending
Most users believed it safe to make purchases through social media platforms. Still, they’re far less comfortable with some of the other public aspects of social media companies saving or sharing their information.
Safe shopping is a crucial part of e-commerce, and 64% of social media users said they believe social media platforms that accept payment through other processors for purchases are safe. Fewer users were as comfortable making payments directly through social media platforms (49%), and even less so with a future possibility of social media apps sharing purchases on their feed (39%) or stored payment information (29%).
User confidence in social media platforms facilitating payment for purchases was highest for Facebook (44%), followed by Instagram (39%), Twitter (21%), and Pinterest (14%). Another 43% of respondents said they didn’t believe any of these social media platforms could securely process payment information.
While 35% of users said they don’t mind seeing ads on social media if they think they’re good ads, 28% felt ads are necessary for the social experience. Still, 44% of users said there were too many ads on social, and 39% admitted the content can be very annoying. Overwhelmingly, users preferred silent ads to those with sound by a ratio of 9 to 1.
Social Media as a Shopping Outlet
Even if they think social media ads are annoying or feel their feeds are too cluttered by paid, promotional content, social media ads can work, and a majority of users have learned about new products because of them.
Nearly all social media users (92%) said they have discovered a new product while using social media at some point in time, and 78% reported following companies on social media. In both cases, women were more likely to have discovered new products (95%) as well as follow companies online (80%), compared to men.
When asked why they followed company accounts on social media, 74% of users said they liked the product(s), liked the company (57%), wanted to learn about new releases (56%), or liked the brand (55%). Fewer users were interested in seeing behind the scenes at a company (18%) or wanted to learn about the company itself (18%).
When deciding which company accounts to follow, users were mostly looking for useful content (58%), discounts for followers (55%), good photos (52%), and authenticity (45%). For company accounts, influencers, and virtually everyone in between, authenticity is one of the most important aspects of any social media presence and helps to build trust between users and the accounts they follow.
How Much Users Are Spending Online
Casual users don’t spend a lot of money when shopping through social media, but regular purchasers can spend hundreds of dollars on items or services they discover on Facebook, Instagram, or other social platforms.
The average purchase made through social media cost users $63, although regular purchasers reported having spent $236 to date in total, on average, while on purchases made through social media. The most common purchase types were video games and accessories (44%), followed by toys and hobbies (29%), jewelry and watches (26%), apparel and accessories (25%), and books or audiobooks (23%). If mobile games don’t seem like a major purchase to you, consider that the Candy Crush series made more than $1.5 billion (or $4.2 million every day) from mobile user microtransactions in 2018.
Social media ads might feel repetitive, and that could be because most users need to see a product on social media multiple times before making a purchase. Compared to 14% of users who said they made a purchase after interacting with a brand online only once, a considerable majority needed to experience the brand twice or more before pulling the trigger. A discount code was the most common motivator to buying (68%), followed by a recommendation from someone they knew (51%) or positive reviews for that item (48%).
The Purchasing Power of Social Media
Many social media users agreed that ads on Facebook or Instagram are annoying. Still, nearly half of the users polled admitted to making purchases through social accounts, a majority of who were inspired by ads. Almost all users reported learning about new products because of social media and even following company accounts because they liked the products or wanted to know more. And while most users need to see a product show up in their feed multiple times before deciding to purchase, it was a discount code for followers or subscribers that was most likely to push them over.
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Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,400 social media users. Respondents were selected based on their social media usage and history of purchases made through social media, and quotas were used to ensure a sufficient number of respondents in various categories. All respondents surveyed used social media at least once weekly. 648 respondents were selected specifically to report on their experiences shopping through social media, and 246 who had purchased through social media were selected for an in-depth survey on their purchase habits and experiences. For the purposes of this study, ‘purchasing through social media’ was defined as follows: making a purchase directly on a social media platform, or clicking through an ad on social media and making a purchase at that time. 752 respondents were surveyed about their social media habits and perceptions of brands more broadly. 473 respondents were men, 521 were women, four respondents did not identify as male or female, and the remaining respondents were not queried about their gender.
In order to help ensure accurate responses, all respondents were required to identify and correctly respond to a decoyed attention-check question. In some cases, questions and answers have been paraphrased or rephrased for clarity or brevity. These data rely on self-reporting, and potential issues with self-reported data include telescoping, selective memory, and attribution errors.
Fair Use Statement
Your readers are probably already shopping online, so share the results of our social media findings with them for any noncommercial use by including a link back to this page in your story so they have access to our full findings and survey methods.