Social media has long presented a lot of promise where eCommerce is concerned. It’s also one of eCommerce’s longest standing puzzles. As digital meeting places where people exchange their best (and worst) ideas, they have a tremendous power to inspire and move consumers toward purchases.
But social media platforms were not fundamentally conceived of as marketplaces for goods – but instead as marketplaces for ideas (Twitter), inspiration (Pinterest), selfies (Instagram), cat videos (YouTube), ideas too insane to be contained by 140 words (Reddit) or pictures of people’s pets/children (Facebook). And so while they have an absolutely inarguable influence over consumers, until very recently, it has been hard to quantify that influence or directly tap into it, because when it came time to act on those inspirations and buy, the customer has always been “somewhere else,” either digitally or physically.
No social media exemplifies this better than Pinterest – the social media hub for people who love … well, almost anything really. Pretty much name it, and someone’s made a Pinterest board about it. If you’re planning a wedding, planting a garden, seeking an inspirational quote, or entertaining a group of foreign children — and are perhaps improbably doing all of these things over this Fourth of July weekend, it’s not a problem. Pinterest quite literally has inspiration boards that cover all of those topics. We checked.
“At the base, we are a visual bookmarking service that helps people really cover things that are related to their interests,” Pinterest’s Head of Business Development Gene Alston told MPD CEO Karen Webster in a podcast interview on the day that Pinterest rolled out its new Buyable Pins feature.
And in doing so, Pinterest has turned this social bookmarking site into a marketplace.
“We want people to take action on their passion,” Alston said.
And that they will by way of something that Pinterest calls Buyable Pins, something Alston described to Webster as the “heavier-duty Sponsored Pins of today.” Containing “fuller information” than the standard Pin, Buyable Pins also contain a price written in blue, and a blue Buy Button that Alston described as “incredibly hard to miss.”
The first time a user attempts to purchase something via a Buyable Pin, Alston said, they will be taken to a page where they will enter their payment information and shipping address, which will be saved and usable henceforth. After that, the user has only to confirm that information, and click “buy” to take action on what passion inspires them at that moment.
And speaking of inspiring, when asked what came first, Pinterest with an interest in monetizing the passions of their Pinners or retailers who wanted a new channel to reach inspired consumers, Alston said that it was a little bit of both.
“Any good partnership pushes each other. Because we are a marketplace and we have consumers that are very interested in being able to take action on the pins, we realized we had to build a capacity for that for our Pinners,” Alston noted. “For our retail partners it was a real opportunity to meaningfully push conversions on mobile, because 80 percent of our traffic comes through mobile. It can be a difficult thing even still to complete purchases on mobile and if we can be part of that solution and increase completed transactions then that is for every party’s benefit.”
For now, the consumers most benefitted will be those looking for fashion and home goods – since Alston says to start, Buyable Pins will be deeply focused on those areas. And that choice, he noted, is not accidental, it is the area in the business where both their users and their retailer advertising partners interact most often and most enthusiastically.
“We want to really go deep in fashion in home and primarily we are working with people who have already invested in Pinterest and have a very active presence like Macy’s, like Nordstrom’s, like Neiman Marcus,” Alston told Webster. He also noted that Pinterest also partnered with Shopify during its early launch – and that a big impetus for that was to help Pinterest users gain direct shopping access to the diverse collection of merchants in the Shopify marketplace.
And while fashion and home goods are a strong and logical starting place, Alston says Pinterest can see Buyable Pins expanding quickly across categories — because no matter what the specific genre, Pinterest offers a unique experience, an opportunity to not just be exposed to products, but be exposed to products in a natural and practical context that makes them truly appealing.
“The starting point has been fashion and home,” Alston noted, “ but being able to get a curated experience around your interests in a universal problem. This is a huge opportunity not only in products and helping people getting connected to interesting tastes, but also in opening up access across categories like food and travel.”
Because the real power of Pinterest, Alston noted, is its ability to really helps its users organize and curate their own wants, interest and inspirations — some of which he learned firsthand recently when he planted a garden. Just seeing his ideas on the board laid out motivated him to make them real.
Which is why though Pinterest may have started out as a tool for largely female shoppers looking to design the perfect outfit or wedding, it is today growing more quickly abroad among men than women, according to Alston, and is drawing almost one-third of its new users from a male audience.
For now, the service is free, although the extent to which it remains free is yet to be determined. Pinterest today derives revenue from its Promoted Pins, which are more akin to an advertising model. Alston elaborates: “The way we think about the vision of our product, our core product is about save, discover and take action. We want people to take all kinds of actions in Pinterest, and that is just an organic part of the product. If we do a great job at making those organic experiences great we think partners will share value by promoting those Pins, which is an advertising product that allows you to get more reach.”
Since the service has been live – and limited to a small percent of the Pinterest user base and for only about 24 hours, Alston could offer no concrete feedback as of yet from either merchants or users. But over the next few weeks he, the team at Pinterest and, to some extent, the rest of the ecosystem will be watching to see if consumers like purchasing things in the same place they Pin them.
If they do, Pinterest may have cracked the code on how to monetize commerce — the social way.