NEW YORK: Consumer purchase decisions are informed by a mix of "old" and "new" media, but more traditional forms of communication appear to exert a greater influence than social networking websites, a new study by Harris Interactive has found.

Based on a survey of 2,355 American adults, the research firm argued the most common way shoppers collect information prior to buying a particular product was via a company website, with 36% of respondents adopting this course of action.

"Face-to-face" interaction with a "salesperson or other company representative" was mentioned by 22% of contributors, while 21% of participants spoke to someone "not associated with the company".

A further 19% of those polled found out about a brand from print advertising, with 15% doing so via broadcast ads, while 14% made judgements "based only on my past experience."

In terms of online behaviour, 19% of consumers used independent websites featuring product reviews – like Trip Advisor or Amazon – and 11% accessed internet message boards.

By contrast, just 4% of Harris Interactive's sample turned to social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, with a similar number visiting "private social networking sites" and “customer communities".

Results varied slightly by age group, with 16% of 18–24 year olds employing social media to conduct product research.

However, this figure was 5% lower than for ads on TV and radio, and 6% below that for print executions among this demographic, and some 24% smaller than the number visiting company websites.

Ads on broadcast media were most widely-used among 25–29 year olds, at 22%, with print ads most popular among 50–64 year old shoppers, on 27%.

Some 57% of the company's panel also said they "communicated about my positive product/service experience to others" after making a purchase, while 41% "recommended" what they had bought to others. 

By contrast, just 11% of this group did so with regard to a negative experience, and only 6% "recommended against" purchasing an item.

In expressing their positive or negative experience, 63% of respondents did so when talking to "a family member, business colleague or a friend."

A further 30% used email to do so, while 12% used a company website, 9% employed social networks, 8% opted for online message boards, and 7% added their comments to independent review websites.

Data sourced from Harris Interactive; additional content by WARC staff