Consumers browsing — but not buying — via mobile and social media

While mobile devices are effective tools for browsing online, and social media can help consumers learn more about products they're interested in, they don't generally lead to purchases, according to a new study.

mobile browsing
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Consumers increasingly rely on smartphones and social media to discover and research products of interest, but relatively few people go on to make mobile purchases, according to new research from Synchrony Financial. Specifically, 45 percent of respondents performed shopping-related tasks via mobile, up 4 percent since last year, but only 18 percent of browsers went on to purchase a product using a mobile device. Mobile discount offers are also popular, with 66 percent of respondents regularly using them, but that number is down from 71 percent last year, Synchrony says.

The use of mobile devices for shopping purposes is rising or holding steady across the board: 53 percent of the more than 6,700 consumer respondents checked out a retail website via mobile, compared to 49 percent in 2014, and 29 percent say they research products on mobile devices, the same percentage as last year.

What IT can do to boost buying

"With the rise in mobile shopping, it's important to invest in tools to engage customers who are shopping with mobile devices and customize the experience," says Toni White, executive vice president and CMO of Synchrony Financial. White suggests that IT executives optimize their company websites for all devices, let customers create relevant mobile alerts and offer personalized deals based on customer behavior.

[ Related: Millennials are most likely to pay for loyalty programs ]

Shoppers also look to social media to discover and occasionally buy products, a behavior that's largely driven by millennials. Of the respondents who are social media users, 47 percent use social media to follow brands and 30 percent have made a purchase after seeing a product on a social channel, up four percent from 2014. Not surprisingly, millennials also lead the pack in social shopping; 52 percent purchased products they saw on social media in 2015, up from 41 percent last year. That's compared to 42 percent of Gen Xers and 18 percent of Boomers who made a purchase as a result of social media discovery in 2015.

In addition to finding new products, social media "provides a great opportunity to engage with customers, whether it is providing relevant content to build brand advocacy or just listening to what customers are saying about what is important to them," White says. "We believe that social media will continue to have an impact on brand perceptions and drive retail growth in the coming years and could lead to more customer-driven innovations for companies."

[ Related: 9 ways mobile and social tech improves the retail shopping experience ]

Consumers want discount offers, but preferences for receiving them are mixed. Only 34 percent of respondents say they'd shop more at a certain store if they got mobile offers. And 41 percent prefer mobile offers via email instead of text message, while 51 percent would be willing to send a text for a discount. Physical coupons and branded credit cards entice them even more; 64 percent are more likely to buy if they have a loyalty coupon, and 75 percent of respondents with credit cards from brands says they're more likely to do business with those companies.

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