In the ONS report, 'Internet access - households and individuals: 2016' it was found 76% of UK adults (16+) will use the internet to find out information about goods and services. The age group most likely to use the internet for this purpose are those aged 35-44 years (86%), closely followed by 45-54-year-olds and 25-34-year-olds, at 85% respectively.

However, it's no longer the generic online search consumers are turning to - but the revolutionary power of social media. Today there are 2.3billion active social media users. Facebook has 1.71billion users, with 500,000 new users joining the network each day. Twitter has 1.3billion accounts, and while only 320million of those are active, 500million tweets are thought to be sent daily.

Indeed, the growth of social media platforms readily available on mobile phones has had a strong impact on the retail industry and it is estimated 91% of retail brands now use at least two social channels to reach and engage with their audience.

In a recent report conducted by PwC, it was found 78% of consumers are influenced by social media; an increase of 10% in the last 12 months. In fact, 43% of consumers proclaim interaction with a favourite brand on social media results in a greater belief in the brand -- showcasing social media as an effective tool in building trust, loyalty and longevity for consumers and retailers alike.

OnBuy analysed data to find out exactly which aspects of social media hold the biggest influence over how, where and why consumers shop - with a generous 45% claiming reviews, comments and feedback are the most influential. Not only the highest percentage, but it shows that today's consumer is more concerned with experience than instant, impulsive purchases (16%) or staying on top of current fashions and trends (25%.)

Increasingly, utilising social media as a shopping tool is a revolution led by the young, using portable devices such as tablets. Jan-Pieter Lips, president of international coalitions at Aimia, comments: "It's the younger demographic that are driving the 'social shopping' trend. Brands need to keep up with this demand if they are going to make the most of the future generation of shoppers."

Fittingly, it was found 33% of 18-24-year-olds would like to purchase items from Facebook directly. 27% would like to purchase from Instagram, 20% from Twitter, followed by Pinterest (17%) and Snapchat (15%), rather than heading to a high-street store to buy clothing or electronics. This suggests that the 'death' of the high-street may be imminent.

Given social shopping advances in place so far, such as Instagram assisting purchases through a clickable link on 'most liked' items; it's true to say that an investment into a social media shopping strategy for companies around the globe could prove to be very fruitful indeed.

Today, social scrolling acts as a good indicator of the potential value of social ecommerce - and what products will sell in retail - with more than half (56%) of consumers who follow brands on social media saying they do so to view products, with the intention of buying.

Though many brands are yet to enable this type of direct shopping, consumers are liberated - using social channels as a source of inspiration. In fact, social networks are the UK's leading source of inspiration (39%) - 2% ahead of individual retailer websites (37%) and 4% ahead of price comparison websites (35%.)

Cas Paton, MD of OnBuy.com, comments: "Logging online is part of our everyday narrative in 2017, so it's impossible for what we see whilst surfing the net to not influence us in some way - particularly when it comes to personal activities like shopping. We all want the best deal, the most suited appliance and the sturdiest investment - and inspiration is everywhere we look. It would be wasteful not to take advantage."


7 Benefits of Social Media for Your Business

1. Generate leads and find new customers

Not only can social media be far more cost-effective in promoting business than traditional methods, social networks are a great way of finding new leads. Engaging online with an audience, both old and new, will help to grow interest and build a strong customer base.

2. Gain audience insight

Social media can provide an incredible insight into your audience, from age and demographics, to how many likes and shares posts create; allowing an opportunity to cater much more effectively to consumers' varying needs.

3. Build and maintain better relationships

Social networks provide an ideal platform for creating, building and maintaining important relationships with your customers and suppliers, and influencers on your niche or market. In fact, no other platform can match the immediacy of connection. Find out where your audience spends most of their time online, and where your brand engages the most, then focus attention on interacting with these communities as much as possible.

4. Use social media as a unique customer service platform

Social media has given business immediate access to public opinion regarding their brand. Whether feedback is positive or negative, it provides excellent insight into customer perspective and opinion and offers a way to instantly combat any negative issues, like customer complaints. Plus, social networks can also be used to spread the word about successes - showcasing what your business can achieve.

5. Share content quickly, easily and more effectively

Ensuring content is seen by your audience and potential customers has never been more fast and direct than when using social media. You can now push content through various social media channels with ease and fluidity, often negating the need for paid press releases or time-consuming campaigns.

6. Increase market knowledge and obtain insight into competition

Social media can help you to gain a greater insight into your market and the success of your competitors. Monitoring your competition on social media can help you build a picture of what is and isn't working and allow you an opportunity to alter or adapt your own social offering accordingly.

7. Social media can help to improve your search visibility and website traffic

With engagement on social media at an all-time high, participation in social networks is a great way to boost overall traffic to your site. Alongside increased traffic through social clicks, lots of engagement with posts and contact on social media pages will help to improve your search engine rankings. In effect, the more active you are on social media, and the more interaction you get with your social output, the more positive the impact on your websites ranking will be.

Credit: shutterstock/nopporn