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Facebook, Twitter Influence Purchases

A Gartner study of social networks influence on purchasing decisions finds they have become important shopping tools for both retailers and consumers.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly emerging as important shopping tools for both retailers and shoppers, according to two new reports issued Tuesday.

Citing the importance of social networks in purchasing decisions, Gartner suggests sellers can tailor their online offerings to influence purchasers while a survey from Deloitte indicates that mobile phones and social networking platforms will have an increased influence, soon, in back-to-school shopping.

"Consumers are increasingly on the phone, online and on-the-go," said Alison Paul, Deloitte vice chairman and retail sector leader, in a statement. "Retailers' ability to influence purchase decisions beyond in-store interactions is growing significantly. Companies that can directly engage the consumer through mobile applications, text alerts and video content may win an increased share of shoppers' back-to-school budgets." In its survey, Deloitte polled 1.050 parents of children in grades K through 12.

Deloitte found that many consumers are planning to use their mobile phones to obtain information on pricing, advertisements, coupons and sales. Nearly 30% of the respondents said social networking is likely to play a major part in their shopping decisions.

In its report, Gartner breaks shopping influencers into different classes and suggested that marketers could target the classes differently to take advantage of their respective assets to help influence online purchasing decisions.

By targeting audiences intelligently, Gartner believes businesses can leverage their influence. "Our survey results showed that one-fifth of the consumer population is composed of salesman, connectors and mavens," said Nick Ingelbrecht, Gartner research director, in a statement. "These are three roles that are key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74% of the population."

The salesman category is somewhat self-descriptive because they are the people who are a key influencer in social networks. Connectors, also important influencers, are connected to many disparate groups and mavens are "knowledge exchangers or information brokers."

Gartner has been developing a methodology utilizing social networks to target the most effective influencers. Said Inglebrecht: "In this way, the most suitable individuals can be targeted with the right information, products and promotions in the most cost-effective way."

In its report Gartner surveyed nearly 4,000 consumers in 10 worldwide markets including the US, France, Germany and China.

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