LONDON: Social networks and mobile phones are playing an increasingly central role in the purchase habits of consumers in Europe, a study has revealed.

IBM, the business services firm, surveyed 4,000 adult internet users in France, Germany, Italy and the UK, and found over 50% use social networks to help make shopping decisions.

Of this group, 35% employ platforms like Facebook to read reviews or rate products, while 25% suggested using social media was now an "important" part of the purchase process.

A further 57% of the same audience agreed the main reason for becoming a fan of a retailer on these properties is the receipt of free trial products or discount coupons.

Despite this, 40% of participants that actively utilise social networks while choosing what to buy then typically acquire the item in question from a bricks and mortar store, not online.

David Hogg, commerce solutions regional leader at IBM, said: "By harnessing real-time customer analytics from social media, retailers can act upon what is being said, delivering a personalised marketing offer based on the customers' shopping profile."

Across the whole panel, 51% of web users had purchased something from a mobile phone, and, within this, 67% thought being able to complete transactions via this route was "important".

More broadly, IBM's study argued the mobile channel presented several opportunities for marketers to yield incremental revenue growth.

In demonstration of this, 68% of the current m-commerce audience stated the ability to compare prices on their handset was a valued tool.

Elsewhere, 38% of the individuals questioned placed such an emphasis on receiving discount coupons through the same route, a figure reaching 29% for special offers.

Similarly, 38% of interviewees that had previously obtained an item using their phone wanted the option to review, change or cancel orders at a later time on a home computer.

"It is clear to see that the mobile phone is no longer just a viewing screen or digital catalogue," said Hogg.

Data sourced from IBM; additional content by Warc staff