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Video games (and gaming systems), baby toys, and mobile phones are the three product categories in which social media has the biggest influence among prospective buyers, according to a global study into shopping behaviour by brand activation agency Arc. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

Arc's 'PeopleShop' report - a global study into the shopping behaviour, attitudes and motivations of 13,000 consumers - showed that shoppers are almost three times more likely to use social media when purchasing video games and video game systems, with the touchpoint influencing 27% of all purchases. By comparison, the study found that of the product categories analysed, on average 10% of purchases are influenced in some way by social media.

As part of the study, Arc analysed shoppers' behaviour across 20 commonly bought product categories in order to identify which touchpoints influenced their purchasing decisions. The study revealed that the influence of social media on the path to purchase is by no means universal, with its influence varying depending on the product category being shopped. While social media plays a key part in purchases of video games & systems and baby toys, its role is less strong in categories such as yoghurts and lager, where only 1% and 2% of consumers cite the touchpoint as an influence.

Why social media is so influential in purchases of video games, baby toys and mobile phones is in part explained by the joint findings that social media is primarily used as a research tool and these are some of the most researched categories (78% of shoppers of baby toys stated 'I like to compare brands'). Indeed, when shoppers were asked how they use the touchpoint to shop, 47% of consumers state they use social media to research products compared to sharing information (30%), engagement (28%), comparing and locating products (27% and 15%), seeking confirmation (27%) and buying (10%).

Of all the digital touchpoints analysed by Arc, search engines were identified as having the greatest impact on consumers' decisions, on average influencing 17% of purchases. Email, social media and online bidding websites followed with 11% and 10%, respectively. QR codes were found to have the smallest impact on consumers, on average only being used by 2% of shoppers, yet when purchasing baby food the study found that shoppers are four-times more likely to use them.

Surprisingly, mobiles and tablets are still cited by consumers as relatively minor influences on our purchasing decisions, on average only being used by 7% and 4% of shoppers. However, these touchpoints have a greater than average influence in the purchase of mobile phones, with consumers over four-times more likely to use a tablet or mobile when shopping for this item.

"With an ever increasing array of touchpoints available, it's more important than ever that brands understand the impact different touchpoints have on shoppers' path to purchase," explained Diana Cawley, managing director for Arc. "Our PeopleShop study showed that no two products are alike. In every category, shoppers are influenced by a range of different psychological, physiological and social factors. If brands want to communicate effectively with their audience, an understanding of shoppers' mindset, needs, occasions and touchpoints is a must."