Common thinking has it that social media users prefer online sites to physical stores. But a new survey shows that social media can actually whet consumer appetite for the in-store experience.
Cleveland-based shopping center owner Forest City Enterprises, which has been engaging with shoppers via social media sites since 2008, is active on Facebook, Twitter and its own exclusive social network Shoptopia. In a research study conducted with Alexander Babbage, the developer polled 5,668 of its E-Club and Shoptopia members to uncover their on- and offline shopping habits, and how one impacts the other. Forest City expected to find that social shoppers are heavily committed to the online experience over in-mall shopping. But the results provided a big surprise: Social media users prefer in-mall shopping versus online.
According to the results, an overwhelming majority of the respondents were satisfied to very satisfied with their latest shopping mall excursion. On a scale of one to 10, with one being “very dissatisfied” and 10 being “very satisfied,” 34% ranked their most recent mall shopping trip a 10; 21.6% ranked it a nine, and 22.1% gave the trip an eight. Only a fraction (1.4%) were very dissatisfied with their in-mall experience. On the flip side, only 20.7% were very satisfied with their most recent online purchasing transaction.
“We entered into the study with several pre-conceived ideas about the shopping habits of the people we were engaging with online,” said Jane Lisy, VP marketing commercial management for Forest City. “For example, we believed that people who were engaging with us were more heavily committed to the online shopping experience and suspected that these people preferred the online shopping experience over the in-mall. However, what we discovered was that this group had a very high satisfaction rate with the in-mall shopping experience.”
Two-thirds (67.1%) said they usually find what they are looking for at the mall, compared with 54.7% who usually find success online. Nearly half (49.3%) of shoppers research their purchases online and then head to the mall to make the purchase. Only 16.7% do their research and purchasing online without making a trip to the mall to see the merchandise firsthand.
When asked what motivated them to shop at a mall or a store rather than purchasing online, 63.8% said they like to see and touch the merchandise before buying it. Nearly 62% said they can see more merchandise options when at the mall or a store versus online. And 47.5% said they like to get special deals that are available only at the mall.
In fact, only 0.7% of respondents said they would rather shop online than at the mall.
“The findings lead us to believe that future outreach through social media should be even more focused on communicating the benefits of the in-mall shopping experience,” Lisy said. “We should perhaps be even more focused on using online channels to remind shoppers about what they truly love about the shopping experience.”
What all this suggests is that mall owners and retailers need to up their social networking offerings to engage shoppers, while continuing to deliver the full in-store experience. Because deals are viewed by social media users as a motivator, the research also suggests there is opportunity to grow in-mall sales via online coupons and contests.
“Our findings have allowed us to qualify as well as quantify to a degree the value of our investment in social media,” Lisy said. “Now that we know that social media channels can be an effective way to communicate with an important group of shoppers who are committed to and prefer the in-mall shopping experience, we can make more effective and efficient use of our marketing dollars. A next logical step might be to further explore and measure effectiveness of more targeted messaging by more specific shopping preferences.”