The year 2015 was a big one for social commerce and for none of the Web’s many prominent digital hangout locations was this more true than Pinterest. While every social media portal has its own flavor, Pinterest is for people (usually women, if we’re in the U.S.) who love, well, stuff.
And “stuff” writ large. If you can think it up, there is almost certainly a Pinterest board all about it: home decor, fashion, wedding planning, gardening, children’s products for a rainy day — they are all there. Need to host a seance, organize a square dance or come up with snack platters for amateur ornithologists? Pinterest has you covered there, too.
The challenge was not attracting eyeballs. Pinterest has millions upon millions of eyes on it every day. The challenge was making those eyeballs pay. This is not a challenge unique to Pinterest, of course; the difficulty in monetizing eyeballs has been a headline story for almost any social media service, including Facebook, since the beginning of time.
But just when the questions about the long-term profitability of social media platforms as a vertical began bubbling up frequently in editorials and analysts’ notes, Pinterest made a big upgrade to its platform utility for advertisers with the rollout of Buyable Pins.
“At the base, we are a visual bookmarking service that helps people really cover things that are related to their interests,” Pinterest Head of Business Development Gene Alston told MPD CEO Karen Webster the day Buyable Pins went live.
The Buyable Pins were a “heavier-duty” version of the Sponsored Pins that preceded them on Pinterest and actually allowed users to make purchases directly from the homepage.
“We want people to take action on their passion,” Alston said.
Six months in and it looks like Pinterest is seeing that action, such that, earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal noted that commerce on Pinterest was “hockey sticking.”
In a more recent assessment, Pinterest was a bit more circumspect but certainly excited about the potential being tapped. And, apparently, also ready to expand its advertising efforts by bring small and medium-sized businesses to the party.
Buyable Pins Performing
Buyable Pins started as a mobile-only effort, which makes sense since the vast majority of Pinterest’s traffic comes via its mobile app.
“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,” Alston told Webster.
Mobile, however, was apparently just a jumping-off point, as Buyable Pins are soon coming to Pinterest’s mobile and desktop websites as well. And the program is expanding, with more Buyable Pins popping up each day.
The move to the Web allows Pinerest to capitalize on desktop computing’s superior conversion rate. On average, desktop users and tablet users buy about equally, often at 2.9 and 2.8 percent, respectively, whereas smartphone users’ conversion rates hover around 1.7 percent.
“We have over 100 million users on our platform. Almost no retailer has 100 million customers. Just looking at the math, most people on Pinterest haven’t shopped from any particular retailer. If Pinterest can help consumers find new products and brands, he says, it will have a very powerful eCommerce platform,” noted Michael Yamartino, Pinterest’s head of commerce.
Yamartino further noted that while it is still early days for the service, there are 60 million Buyable Pins from over 10,000 brands.
The focus of the program now, he says, is to make sure the consumers are connected to the right products.
“Last year, we were focused on building out the platform,” he said. “This year, we want to make sure the shopping experience is terrific. That means finding more ways to connect users to relevant products.”
“These are complicated problems to solve. It requires us to understand a lot of different signals. But when we figure them out, we’ll have an extremely powerful discovery engine.”
And speaking of making that discovery engine more powerful…
SMBs Now Invited To The Marketing Party
Tuesday (March 8) brought another big announcement from Pinterest: Going forward, small and medium-sized businesses will now have access to its self-service advertising platform. First launched in 2014, the self-service ad business allows firms to purchase ads with a credit card and track their performance.
According to reports, the program has been in private testing with “tens of thousands” of small and medium-sized businesses. The move brings Pinterest competitively into step with Facebook and Twitter — both of which already have similar self-service functions. Tim Kendall, Pinterest’s general manager of monetization, told The Wall Street Journal that the program accounts for a “very healthy chunk of revenue” but declined to put a specific figure on it.
Apart from opening the program up to all comers, Pinterest also announced it is increasing the number of keywords and specific interests that advertisers can sell against. Previously, they were limited to 30 interest terms; that number has ballooned up to 420, allowing for more granular ad targeting. Pinterest notes such ads are more effective because they are much more likely to catch users who are intending a specific purchase at a moment of action.
Moreover, apart from being able to advertise against an expanded pool of interests, marketers can further supplement their offering with keywords.
So, for example: A retailer that sold women’s shoes, in the past, would have been limited to women’s apparel as an interest area; now, it can list as women’s shoes and add on the keyword “ballet flats” (on the assumption it sells ballet flats).
The service is only geared toward small and medium-sized businesses at present, though several marketing industry watchers are wondering if a self-service advertising platform aimed more at large chains and enterprises is coming soon.
Whatever the result, Pinterest remains of big interest for anyone wondering how to close the gap and solve the social media commerce puzzle, as it seems to be increasingly finding a way to turn its hangout spot into something of a marketplace.
Which, PYMNTS learned six months ago, has been something of a long game for quite some time.
“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,” Alston noted.