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What's the least effective online medium for holiday e-commerce?

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There's some good news and some bad news about Facebook as a holiday gift e-commerce advertising medium.

The good news, Advertising Age reported December 11, is that Facebook accounts for a whopping 80 percent of holiday purchases from social media. The bad news is that social media account for only 2 percent of holiday e-commerce purchases, down from 3 percent last year.

"Retailers are filling up their Facebook pages and Pinterest boards with items for sale this holiday season," Ad Age notes, but next to nobody's clicking through to buy.

That's the finding of e-commerce analytics startup Custora's study of aggregated data from 70 million online shoppers who spent more than $10 billion at more than 100 US-based retailers November and December of 2012 and November and December to date this year.

Desktops, not mobiles

To begin with, they found, most online holiday shoppers aren't using their mobile devices. Fully 71 percent of this year's online gift purchases were made on desktops (79 percent last year), compared to only 18 percent by smartphone and 11 percent by tablet. The study didn't say so, but this may be because people like to look at what they're buying (and can see more on a bigger screen) or because they pick a time when they're not out and about to sit down and do their shopping.

Inbound, not outbound

Second, even with e-commerce, gift purchases are more considered than impulse, so the process tends to be more inbound (seeking out what you're looking for, going to websites that have it, and shopping around) than outbound (seeing a post or text with an offer or sales message and instantly responding).

This, probably, is why the biggest holiday e-commerce channel is organic search (AKA"googling"), accounting for 26 percent of this year's online sales to date, followed by Cost Per Click (that column of sponsored listings down the right-hand column of the Google page).

Almost as many sales – 25 percent – resulted from customers skipping Google and going directly to a retailer's online store. And email produced slightly more sales (17 percent) than CPC.

A fraction of a fraction

As for social media, Custora co-founder Cory Pierson says that while a few retailers get as much as 10 percent of their holiday e-commerce sales through social media, "[i]t is fair to say – and perhaps pretty surprising – that clicks from social very rarely directly lead to orders."

Of social media's 2 percent of sales, 80 percent (1.6 percent of the total) came from Facebook, 15 percent (0.3 percent of the total) from Pinterest and 5 percent (0.1 percent of the total) from Twitter.

So if you're a retailer, and if the idea of putting up free posts on social media and having consumers instantly click through on their smartphones or tablets and buy make visions of sugarplums dance in your head, maybe it's time you stopped believing in Santa Claus.

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