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For UK Web Users, Social and Shopping Don’t Mix

Less than one-quarter of online shoppers say a social presence enhances their trust in a retailer

Social media may be great for announcing new products and fielding customer complaints, but research from YouGov found that setting out a stall on social networks may also have a downside, at least for retailers. In December 2013 polling, many UK internet shoppers had a negative opinion of a store with a social presence. A significant majority (55%) of respondents trusted a retailer less if it was active on social media. Less than half that proportion (27%) said a social presence led them to trust a merchant more.

Facebook and Twitter users were more favorably inclined to retailers on social sites—but not by much. Around one-third (33%) of Facebookers trusted a retailer more if it had a social network presence, yet 55% said it made them trust a retailer less. Among Twitter users, 52% said social activity diminished their trust in a merchant, while 37% said it raised it.

One reason for these views is that many UK web users don’t see much purpose in combining their social activity with shopping or buying. Only 10% of respondents consulted social networks when researching potential purchases, compared with 60% who looked at customer reviews on a retailer’s website and 48% who visited comparison sites. Overall, 42% of respondents said that the point of social networks was to keep up with friends and family, not to shop.

Yet the tendency to distrust stores for their social media activity may also be founded, at least in part, on privacy worries.

Younger online shoppers were most concerned about keeping their online socializing separate from their shopping—perhaps because they were more likely than some older cohorts to be highly active on social networks themselves. According to YouGov, 61% of those ages 16 to 24 preferred not to overlap their social networking and online shopping, and 57% didn’t want sites such as Twitter and Facebook to have any access to or connection with their online purchase history.

These results may make unwelcome reading for retailers looking to social networks as a promising sales channel. At the same time, stores that focus on social sites to provide news and customer service may actually benefit, if that strategy is clear to shoppers.

Either way, there’s little chance that UK shoppers’ apparent mistrust of stores on social sites will have any real effect on their willingness to buy online. eMarketer estimates that nearly 73% of the UK population ages 14 and older will make a digital purchase this year—a proportion higher than anywhere else in Western Europe and roughly 20 percentage points above the regional average.

We expect UK retail ecommerce sales of £52.21 billion (nearly $81.58 billion) in 2014, an annual gain of 15.0%.

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