Social Yields Just 2% of Online Holiday Retail Sales: Study

Facebook Leads With 80% of Sales From Social

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Retailers are filling up their Facebook pages and Pinterest boards with items for sale this holiday season, but how many people are actually clicking through to make a purchase?

Not many.

Research from the e-commerce analytics company Custora suggests that a a very small percentage of online retail sales results directly from social. Just 2% of unique purchases made from Nov. 1 and onward this year began as social posts that people clicked on, according to aggregated customer data from more than 100 U.S.-based retailers. The research is taken from 70 million online shoppers who accounted for more than $10 billion in spending in November/December of last year and November/December to date this year.

Online retail sales by channel
Online retail sales by channel

Meanwhile, the lion's share of sales originated from organic search (26%), direct visits to retailer sites and apps (25%), email marketing (17%) and paid search (16%).

Custora won't disclose the retailers included in the research, but Etsy, Bonobos, One Kings Lane, Fab, Birchbox and Revolve Clothing are among the startup's customers. The majority of companies included in the research are pure-play e-commerce companies that don't have a brick-and-mortar business, according to Custora's co-founder Corey Pierson.

"It is fair to say -- and perhaps pretty surprising -- that clicks from social very rarely directly lead to orders," Mr. Pierson said. As a caveat, he observed that retailers who index highest get about 10% of their sales from social posts during the holiday season.

Of the sales Custora tracked that did occur when users clicked on a social post and completed a purchase from there, Facebook drove 80% of them, while Pinterest drove 15% and Twitter drove 5%.

A Target ad on Facebook for a razor
A Target ad on Facebook for a razor

Sales from social are also growing more slowly than on other channels, according to the research. Custora found that overall e-commerce grew on Black Friday and Cyber Monday by 16% and 18% respectively over last year, but sales originating on social media grew by 8% and 10%. The channel that gained the most at social's expense was email, which accounted for about 23% of sales on those days.

However, in the overall holiday retail period starting on Nov. 1, social sales grew by 19%, on par with overall e-commerce growth.

Ad Age contacted several large retailers seeking comment on Custora's findings. Macy's, Best Buy and JC Penney declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for Target -- which is not a Custora customer -- said that social posts are contributing to's sales by directing traffic to the site, though she declined to get into specifics. She observed that traffic to grew by 70% in the six weeks after the retailer implemented Pinterest's "rich pins," or pins that contain more robust information, like pricing and availability, for a product.

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