The Rise of Pinterest as a Shopping (Not Social) Site

“Pinterest is not a social media network,” insists Anna Bennett, a well-known Pinterest expert. Of course, the online platform, whose users “pin” links and images to virtual bulletin boards, has social elements—users can share and comment on pins, and follow and be followed by others. 

But Bennett means that almost no one goes to Pinterest to chat with pals or catch up on news. They go to shop. It’s a distinction brands should take to heart, says Bennett, who teaches Pinterest Marketing for Business on her website, “On Pinterest, you don’t have to force people to shop.”

Silicon Valley venture capital titan Mary Meeker’s KPCB Internet Trends report—one of the business world’s most anticipated annual summaries—backs up that assertion. Meeker’s 2016 report says that 55 percent of Pinterest users find and shop for products on the platform, compared with only 12 percent of users on Facebook and Instagram, respectively, and 9 percent on Twitter. 

And with a spate of new updates and tools for users, the network is increasingly making it easier for retailers to sell (and buyers to buy) directly on the site. We asked Bennett to break down the newest retailer-friendly features on the platform: 

Buyable Pins 

The biggest change on Pinterest for marketers has been the ability to create Buyable Pins—pins with a blue price tag that, when clicked, allow users to almost instantly purchase an item. And unlike Facebook and Etsy, Pinterest doesn’t take a cut of sellers’ sales. “It’s an easy way for businesses to get discovered,” Bennett says, “because the Buyable Pins can be found in search results and in Related Pins” (a tab users can click to see more of the same type of product). Once you start creating Buyable Pins, Pinterest creates a personalized board filled with your shoppable products—making it easier to show your consumers what you have to offer.

Shopping Bag

This feature lets users select and buy multiple products—from multiple sellers—at the same time. Users simply need to enter a payment method, which can be saved for future purchases, to buy off the site from their shopping bag. And if users are searching for a specific necklace they like, “they can jump over to the retailer’s page, where they can see similar products from the same retailer,”  Bennett says.

Visual Search Tool 

The channel also has a newish visual search that Bennett says “reinforces the way people shop on Pinterest. When you find an object or a pin that you love, tap it with a search tool and drag the zoom tool over the item, and Pinterest will show you similar products.” So if there’s a necklace on a woman in a photo that strikes your fancy, you can zoom in and ask Pinterest to find similar necklaces. This also works by uploading an image you’ve taken to Pinterest, then selecting what you’d like to see more of using the zoom tool.

Promoted Pins

Promoted Pins are the Facebook Ads of the network—brands can pay to have them show up prominently in searches. “Pinterest is constantly boosting its e-commerce features to help businesses sell more,” says Bennett, who predicts the network will continue to rule social commerce. “Pinterest has over 100 million users that are there to shop,” she adds. “You do the math.” 

(Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

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