SAN MATEO, CA: One in five US consumers will be researching gifts online only on their mobile phones this holiday season, according to new research which also highlights the growing role of social media.

Searchmetrics, a search and content performance specialist, polled 2,000 online US adults to discover how they intended to start the gift-buying process.

Six in ten (62%) planned on exploring Amazon, compared with 44% who were going to use Google and 14% Bing; eBay attracted interest from 23% of respondents.

The survey also suggested that social networks are becoming an important place for holiday gift research: more than a quarter of respondents said they would be looking on Facebook (27%) for ideas; the same proportion cited Pinterest as a source of inspiration.

Rather fewer saw Instagram (16%) or Twitter (12%) in the same light.

"The way people look for seasonal gifts online is a big part of the multi-billion dollar product search market in which Google, Amazon, the main social networks, and major retail sites are fighting it out to be the go-to destination for consumers to research products before they buy," said Marcus Tober, CTO and founder of Searchmetrics.

And with Google estimating that 30% of all online purchases now happen on mobile phones, he emphasised the importance of mobile search for retailers.

Two thirds (67%) of survey respondents indicated they would use their smartphones for research, while 20% said this would be the only device they used for the task; the equivalent tablet figures were 51% and 13%.  

"As well as having a presence on Google Shopping, retailers must ensure they have a strategy in place to ensure their product pages rank highly in organic search results displayed on phones," said Tober.

That strategy, he advised, should include user experience, technical and content elements.

Researching holiday gifts, he added, has become a complex process that involves search engines, social networks and online marketplaces.

"Retailers need to be visible in all these areas. And if they are not selling on Amazon or other online marketplaces, they have to keep tabs on competitor activity on these sites."

Data sourced from Searchmetrics; additional content by Warc staff