LONDON: Although traditional search engines and e-retail sites remain the most popular online sources for Christmas gift ideas in the UK, social networks are gaining ground, according to new research.

A poll of 1,000 UK adults by Searchmetrics, a search optimisation platform, found 61% search Amazon for information about possible gifts while 50% also use Google and more than a third (38%) check eBay.

But almost a quarter (23%) of UK online shoppers are turning to Facebook where they can discuss products and ideas with their friends as well as receive purchase recommendations.

Pinterest, the virtual pin-board social network, and micro-blogging site Twitter are also used as a research source by 7% of UK online shoppers, the study found.

Marcus Tober, chief technology officer and founder of Searchmetrics, said the findings highlighted how social networks are increasingly playing a role in product purchasing decisions in the UK.

"One of the benefits of looking for product ideas on social networks is that you get to see feedback and preferences from other consumers, as well as participate in online discussions about products with a range of people, including your own friends and followers," he said.

"And, of course, purchase recommendations from other shoppers – especially friends – can be very powerful," he added.

The survey also found that nearly a third (32%) of UK consumers regard online shopping at Christmas to be less stressful  than the traditional way of shopping, and over a quarter (28%) prefer to use the internet to avoid queues and crowds.

And, in another interesting finding for retailers, 6% say they intend to buy Christmas gifts online after Christmas itself in order to benefit from discounts in the New Year sales. In all, 2% are likely to buy gifts on Christmas Day.

In a final piece of advice to retailers, Tober said: "They should use a variety of methods to promote their products at Christmas – and also throughout the year.

"They should be trying to increase their visibility in Google searches, as well as building a strong presence on social networks such as Facebook.

"And even if they are not present on marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, they need to be checking these sites to see what their competitors are doing."

Data sourced from RealWire, Searchmetrics; additional content by Warc staff