Social media had become an extremely important part of the habits of many consumers. According to one estimate, 44 percent of consumers use social media more than five times a day. This is an audience that business owners can't ignore. A recently released report makes it easier for business owners to monetize their social media by examining how people use social media to research products for sale.

ViSenze surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and learned much about their browsing and social media habits. One of the key takeaways is the popularity of social media for product information. According to the report, 75 percent of consumers are inspired to purchase by image and video content seen online.

The study also reported that more than half of consumers surveyed by ViSenze said they prefer online shopping to in-store shopping. That doesn't mean there are no problems. The majority (52 percent) cited they often experience difficulty finding products they seek online. While it's clear that some online retailers need to improve their SEO so products are easier to find, this is still an opportunity for social media marketers who want to fill in the gap. The ViSenze researchers reported that 68 percent of consumers are open to recommendations for alternative items if the product they are interested in is out of stock or temporarily unavailable.

As was explained before, many people use social media every day. However, using social media is different from buying things on social media. That said, social media plays a huge role in shaping the shopping behavior of consumers. According to ViSenze, about one-third of purchases begin on social platforms each month.

The value of social media for sales comes more from suggestions than direct sales. Among the ViSenze survey respondents, 80 percent have never made a purchase from a Buy button on social media. However, almost half of respondents watch video content on retailers' websites while shopping. Again, this shows the power of social media is in influencing shoppers.

The report also provides insight into the best platforms to use to drive sales. As many would expect. Facebook was ranked the most inspiring platform for a buying decision, followed by Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat, which ranked last with only 2 percent of respondents citing it as a platform from which they might initiate a purchase.

"Social media as well as the increasing amount of visual content available online influences consumer purchase behavior more every day," said Oliver Tan, CEO and co-founder of ViSenze. "Our 'Visual Commerce Report: Retail' confirmed for us that retailers must revamp the way their products are discovered online in order to streamline the path to purchase. We have watched as the demand for visual search has grown, and ensuring that every product can be found, referenced, and understood based on visual attributes is the only way to capitalize on these moments of inspiration happening at any time during the customer journey."

As the holiday shopping season gets closer, it's important for business owners to get their best videos, images, and product information on their social media. More so than the content on the website, what people see on social media can affect their purchasing decisions.

For more recent reports on online marketing, read this article on the trends of early holiday shoppers in 2017.