LONDON/MONTREAL: More than half (56%) of consumers who follow brands on social media sites say they do so to view products while nearly a third (31%) say they use these channels to browse for new items to buy, a new survey has found.

After polling more than 2,000 adult consumers, loyalty research firm Aimia concluded that these "social shoppers" are people who like to visit social networks as part of their everyday shopping behaviour.

And in an important finding reported by Marketing Week, it emerged that images on social media sites can help to inspire or influence purchasing behaviour.

This is especially the case among younger consumers aged 18 to 35 in the clothing and fashion category (66%), followed by gifts for others (61%), home d├ęcor (58%), food and drink (58%) and accessories (57%).

For older consumers aged 55 and above, the top five purchases inspired by images on social networks are gifts (36%), technology (33%), food and drink (31%), clothing and fashion (28%) and holiday destinations (26%).

"Social commerce offers a real opportunity for retailers to shorten the path to purchase for customers," said Jan-Pieter Lips, president of international coalitions at Aimia. "As it stands, social media platforms are acting as a sort of catalogue, but many customers still go elsewhere to purchase the product."

He went on to warn brands that if they do not prioritise social channels, they run the risk that they will "miss out on a vital opportunity to engage with a captive audience of customers and convert browsing into sales".

The research also found that 41% follow brands to look at new ranges when they launch and 35% do so to get ideas about what to buy when they next go shopping.

Almost a quarter (24%) follow brands to get inspiration for gift ideas and 16% do so to keep up-to-date with trends and what is fashionable.

And in terms of the most popular social media sites for direct purchases, if that function is available, Facebook comes top (19%) for consumers, followed by Twitter (10%), Instagram (9%), Pinterest (7%) and Snapchat (5%).

Data sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff