From The Editor | August 22, 2013

Can Pinterest Actually Generate Sales?


By Bob Johns

Bob Johns, Robert Johns, associate editor

Retailers are jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon, but unlike the failure of Facebook storefronts, this social site seems to be driving sales.

Pinterest, the fledgling social network service that has quickly become the third-largest social site in the U.S., is quickly becoming a favorite for retailers. The question is, can Pinterest drive sales and build a brand, or is it strictly a branding opportunity?

There is no denying the success of Pinterest as a social site, with over 70 million users (46.2 in the U.S.) as of July 2013, and retailers are loving the site. For those of you not familiar with the site, Pinterest touts itself as “a tool for collecting and organizing things you love.” The site allows users to “pin” photos to their wall with comments. These pics can be anything from your dog lying outside to your daughter playing dress-up. However, one area that has really taken off is sharing photos about retailers and by retailers. The site has quickly become a great venue for sharing a picture of the great deals customers are getting or of the latest fashion they just bought. This phenomenon is being organically driven by the consumer.

Shopping has always been a social endeavor, and most shoppers can’t wait to tell their friends about the bargain they found somewhere. By recently enhancing its mobile apps, Pinterest has made it easy to just press and pin a photo to the user’s board and tag it right from a smartphone. The photo is instantly viewable by the user’s network and normally is shared (re-pinned) many times over. This allows shoppers to brag about their purchases and show friends and family the items right away. It has also become a way for customers to discover new products.

A recent article in the  Harvard Business Review, by David Sevitt and Alexandra Samuel, titled, “How Pinterest Puts People in Stores” highlights how “reverse showrooming” is a boon for retailers.  The article outlines how Pinterest is able to drive traffic to physical stores and e-commerce sites from the site. The survey upon which the article is based found that 21% of the Pinterest users had purchased items in-store after pinning. The survey shows 60% of the people who made purchases after being on Pinterest found the item through either a search on the site, a stranger’s board on the subject, a friends board, or the retailer’s board. Over half of the buyers were not thinking of buying the product when they first found it on Pinterest. The survey goes on to show how these customers were influenced by sales and deals, someone they know pinning it, and additional valuable information on the Pinterest site.

Retailers are seeing the value and are putting more effort into having new styles and deals posted to the site on a regular basis. Nordstrom (4.5 million) and Lowe’s (3.6 million) have huge followings, while J. Crew is moving to monetize the site. The retailer is offering personalized stylists to create looks for customers and order the products. They are even beginning to offer “sneak peaks” into upcoming releases by popular lines, giving these customers a chance to have the latest fashion the day it comes out.

On August 21st, J. Crew debuted its fall catalog on Pinterest, two days before the catalog became generally available and allowed users to pre-order the products. Nordstrom has a separate section of Pinterest where customers can follow new shoe styles and promotions. The company even uses the data to decide on merchandising floor displays. Retailers are creating custom areas focusing on brands and styles and encouraging users to post their own pics. Imagine being in the dressing-room area, trying on that new dress and shoes, and being able to get instant feedback from your friends before making the purchase. Although this was possible with other social networks before, Pinterest is definitely one of the first to make it so simple for the user.

Social commerce is nothing new, but with retailers all but abandoning Facebook e-commerce sites in favor of a customer engagement presence, Pinterest may be the social networking site best poised to drive retail both online and offline.