Last week’s revelation that Pinterest may soon install a “Buy” button to facilitate e-commerce has the marketing world buzzing—and with good reason.
If such a move is successful, the social media company's more than 70 million users could fast make it an e-commerce juggernaut, perhaps even akin to Amazon or eBay.
With Pinterest seen as a “discovery” platform where users can pin and share recipes, fashions, furniture and other interests, the site is a natural for a move into commerce. People shopping for a new outfit, for example, would be able to visit the site’s thousands of pinboards, curate their options, and buy merchandise right off the virtual mannequin.
“On Pinterest, buying is a far more natural extension to the social experience,” Apu Gupta, cofounder and CEO of the visual marketing platform Curalate, told Retail Dive. “That’s because on Pinterest, much of the conversation is about products people discover, save, and learn more about."
"It’s no surprise, then, that Pinterest drives an enormous amount of social referral traffic to retailers, and it’s only natural we would see Pinterest make it easier for consumers to transact where they find inspiration.”
Pinterest's unique path to purchase
Pinterest’s Buy button could roll out within six months on a limited basis, according to Re/Code coverage, although the company may need more time to implement it. A recent move to ban affiliate links seems to confirm that Pinterest is circling the wagons for a proprietary e-com rollout, however. The company claims it removed affiliate links to speed click-through rates, remove spam content, and otherwise improve the user experience.
According to Pinterest, businesses are responsible for posting two-thirds of its more than 30 billion pins. The platform already offers Rich Pins that include pricing and availability information from e-commerce sites, as well as Promoted Pins offering brand content.
The closest it has come to a click-to-purchase so far is the recent introduction of App Pins that allow mobile users to download brands' iPhone apps immediately, however.
Rival social networks Facebook and Twitter introduced Buy buttons last year, with mixed results. Brands have been slow to embrace the Facebook Buy button so far, and Twitter’s Buy option is still in testing. While Pinterest will be joining the party late, it offers an advantage over the only two larger social networks in that users come to its site prepared to learn about new products.
“Increasingly, the point of purchase will move to the point of interaction, and Pinterest is well-suited to take advantage of this,” Gupta says. “That said, effective discovery is still predicated upon relevance, and the Pinterest experience of the future [must] not only be highly effective at search, but also highly effective at creating moments of discovery that lead to purchases.”
Keeping customers satisfied
Pinterest will face logistic challenges if it does indeed morph into a digital mall. Stripe, which has helped Facebook and Twitter accept payments, is likely to handle payments on the social media site, Re/Code reports.
As a web and mobile storefront, Pinterest will probably not stock any inventory, but it will still need to manage consumer expectations—and any glitch in service or order fulfillment from a retailer's handling of the product will reflect badly on the platform.
“In a world in which consumers can buy from social networks, the retailers become drop-shippers,” Gupta says. “To ensure a smooth customer experience, Pinterest is going to need to make sure that its inventory and pricing data is well-synced to the retailer, so that consumer expectations aren’t dashed at the last minute. Furthermore, Pinterest will need to make it clear who handles customer service issues, should the need arise.
“None of these issues is insurmountable,” Gupta adds. “Pinterest has been extremely smart about laying the groundwork for this, and has been marching towards this in a methodical way. If a network can pull this off, I’d bet on it being Pinterest.”