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Online Retail Gains from Search & Social Nets

Online shopping has become more pervasive among Web-enabled consumers, according to the latest results of a U.S. market study commissioned by iCrossing. Moreover, purchases are increasingly being influenced by independent recommendations.

The study reveals that while search engines have retained their popularity as a research tool -- and prior experience with a company's products remains an influential factor in the purchase process -- social media sites have grown in importance as places where consumers gravitate to obtain information about products and services.

Key findings of the market study include:

- Online shopping continues to grow. 39 percent of online adults reported making a purchase online at least monthly, versus 30 percent in 2005. This is an increase of 30 percent over two years.

- Social media is increasingly relevant to online retailing. 42 percent of all consumers view information about brands and products on sites like Wikipedia to be extremely or very influential to their online purchase decisions. Blog posts, online videos and brand profiles on social networking sites carry significant weight with 18 to 44 year-old shoppers.

- Online reviews are growing in importance. Use of customer product reviews and evaluations to research online purchases jumped from 40 percent in 2005 to 49 percent in 2007; and 70 percent of all online shoppers cite online reviews as extremely or very important factors in their decision-making process.

- Search is a pathway for shoppers. 65 percent of online shoppers conduct product research using search engines, and the percentage of those searching around actual purchasing -- finding online and offline retailers -- rose significantly between 2005 and 2007.

- Major retailers are still missing out on search synergy opportunities. Several large retailers, including Tiffany.com and Target.com, rank in paid search for the tested retail-specific keyword set, but miss out on additional opportunities to connect with interested customers by failing to achieve visibility in natural search results.

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