That's because – not surprisingly – people think about what other people will think of their purchases.
According to "The 'Conspicuous Purchase' Effect," as the study is called, if the product was one someone would be proud to trumpet (such as sportswear for women or a cool fragrance for men), the presence of the Facebook "like" button and the Twitter "tweet this" button made people 25 percent more likely to buy it. When the product was not one most people would want to be public news (for women, Spanx bodyshaping underwear; for men, acne products such as Clearasil), the presence of those same social media buttons made consumers 25 percent less likely to buy it.
The study – from the University of Miami School of Business Administration, Empirica Research, and StyleCaster Media Group – asked some 200 people, age 16 to 45, to rate their likelihood of buying items as presented on a mocked up shopping site. Participants randomly were assigned to see product pages that included Facebook or Twitter icons or did not. Researchers then measured intended purchase behavior. According to the study, the impact on intended buying behavior "emerged regardless of whether people had any memory of having seen the social media icons." Consumer age and internet usage level made no measurable difference.
Said Claudia Townsend, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration: "Our study finds that the mere presence of social media icons on a web page where we shop appears to cause us to feel as if our purchases are being watched by our social network, and we adjust our buying decisions accordingly.
She added: “Marketers should be aware that the placement of these symbols in their web design strategy could have a major impact on buying behavior.”
Another thing to consider: Whether the social media icons make people feel stalked.
Study author David Neal told The Wall Street Journal that even those not invested in Facebooking or tweeting every little detail of their existence could be “shaped” by the vague prospect others – parents, girlfriend from junior year, widowed aunt – might learn they purchased Clearasil or something spandex from Body Glove. Neal suggested the buttons tend to leave users feeling they are under some sort of surveillance.
Do you have Facebook or Twitter icons next to products for sale on your web site? Do you think they have they affected sales?
Photo credit: Thinkstock