Digital Media Takeaways from Pew Research Center’s Study on E-Commerce

Digital Media Takeaways on Pew E-Commerce Data

How much online shopping did you do last year? Do you lean towards brick-and-mortar purchases, or do you occasionally use the Amazon app on your phone? Maybe you realized the power of e-commerce when you purchased presents for the entire holiday season from the comfort of your couch. Or, maybe you’re a true online shopping pro, and you even order your groceries from your phone. (Yes, that’s a thing people do now!) Then again, maybe you’re the sort of person who won’t buy something unless you’ve had a chance to hold it with your own hands first.

The Pew Research Center recently released its annual study on e-commerce, and the results are worth a close look. Among other things, they found that roughly 8-in-10 Americans are online shoppers, and 15% buy online on a weekly basis. What’s more, while it will come as no surprise to learn that 9-in-10 millennials buy online, it’s of note that even 6-in-10 adults over 65 are buying online as well.

As content businesses selling our own products online, the digital media industry needs to be aware of these sort of macro shopping trends. No matter who your publication’s demographic is, you can reach them online with the right tools in your digital strategy toolbox. There is another opportunity, too: to use our brand authority to increase the conversion of other companies’ products related to our niche.

The five tactics below will help you meet your customers at the right place and time in their buyer’s journey to sell more of your products—plus the products of your partners—online.

1. Build a Robust Mobile Conversion Strategy

51% of adults have bought something online using a cell phone. Is your website, and especially your checkout process, optimized for mobile?

If your checkout page isn’t mobile responsive, you’ll lose a lot of potential customers. Mobile customers shop with their thumbs, so a zoomed out page that doesn’t adapt for a small cell phone screen will be impossible for them to navigate.

Furthermore, your mobile checkout process needs to be ultra-fast. According to Crazy Egg, 57% of visitors will potentially abandon their carts on mobile if it takes a page longer than 3 seconds to load.

Finally, offer your customers a progress bar to let them know how far along they are in the checkout process. If your visitor is shopping on mobile, there is a good chance they are out and about or in a hurry. A progress bar keeps them updated that the end is near.

2. Monitor Social Conversions

Social remains the most difficult channel for direct conversion. We recommend continuing to use social media to build an audience and an email list, to which you can then promote products more directly.

That being said, we’re watching the trends closely. According to the survey, 15% have made purchases by following a link from social media sites. While 15% is a relatively small figure, it’s a huge increase relative to just a few years ago. Furthermore, this percentage is in line with desktop purchase rates in 2000 (and look how quickly that evolved). All this is to say: social media sales conversions are probably on the rise, so be prepared to pivot your strategy in the future accordingly.

Millennials lead the pack on social with 24% having bought something by following a link on social media. If your media products target young adults, there’s an immediate opportunity here to sell through social.

3. Use Reader Reviews to Drive Conversions

How much “social proof” do you have on your conversion pages? Your customers don’t want to hear from you how awesome you are; they want to get the good news from other people. In fact, 82% of Americans say they consult online ratings and reviews when buying something for the first time, and 40% say they regularly consult reviews before making a purchase.

You can’t review yourself. Make sure you add reader/client/customer testimonials near your checkout pages. Even better, numbers speak volumes. Consider posting a figure like, “X New Happy Subscribers Since Last Year” to help encourage your prospect to cross the finish line and become a paying customer.

4. Write Authoritative Reviews of Other Products

Remember: it’s not all about you. There is a real opportunity for publishers of quality content to boost one another’s products by reviewing one another’s work. And why wouldn’t you want to help other companies improve their conversion rates while taking a piece of the action while you’re at it?

As we mentioned above, four out of five consumers consult online reviews before buying something for the first time. This extends into retail outlets as well. Just under half of Americans (45%) have used their phones while inside a store to look up online reviews.

You can be that review for someone else. Your brand can produce objective, credible reviews of products that will increase conversions for your advertising or other B2B partners.

To increase conversions even further, consider creating a video testimonial. 55% of U.S. adults say they have watched product review videos online. Consider your partner’s audience: product review videos are also more common among those under 50 than among those 50 and older (68% vs. 41%).

5. Increase the Authenticity of Your Reviews with an Objective Protocol

The trustworthiness of online reviews has come into question in recent years. Business owners and consumers alike have voiced concerns about the validity and truthfulness of various online review sites. When asked about this issue, Americans themselves are nearly evenly split. Roughly half (51%) of those who read online reviews say they generally give an accurate picture of the quality of the product, but a similar share (48%) believes it is often hard to tell if online reviews are truthful and unbiased.

And when it comes to the tone of online reviews, more Americans report being influenced by highly negative reviews than are influenced by highly positive ones. Some 54% of Americans who read online reviews indicate that they pay more attention to extremely negative reviews when trying to make decisions, while 43% pay more attention to extremely positive ones.

What does this mean for content creators? Publicly post your protocol for reviewing goods. This will ensure objectivity. Check out this example ethics statement from as a guideline.

On a case-by-case basis, consider including negative reviews to increase the authority and authenticity of your positive ones. By seeing that you’re not always a ray of sunshine, your audience associates you with a fair but critical eye. If you do go down this path, however, make sure you work with a lawyer. You want to avoid any liability issues with the product in question. And be aware of the fact that you are hurting your chances of ever working with the recipients of bad reviews.

Brands have an opportunity to provide authoritative reviews and participate in the increase in conversion rates by striking deals with e-commerce and products companies related to their content area. Doing so will create fresh revenue streams for your business while helping out your friends in other industries. It’s a win-win all around.

How Sterling Woods Group Can Help

At Sterling Woods, we work with clients to quickly diagnose where there are opportunities to increase the conversion rate for existing products and services, as well as how to partner with other businesses to boost revenue. We typically find a way to improve conversions by 20-30% or more.

Want to learn more? Contact us at for a free 30-minute consultation.

About the Author, Rob Ristagno

Rob Ristagno is the founder of The Sterling Woods Group and partners with companies to drive rapid digital revenue growth. Prior to creating Sterling Woods, Rob served as a senior executive for several niche media and e-commerce companies. Rob started his career as a consultant at McKinsey and holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College. He has taught Product Strategy at Boston College.

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