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Pinterest’s new “Buyable Pins” makes it a potent e-commerce channel for brands

Omar Akhtar

If you like it on Pinterest, you can now buy it on Pinterest.

Yesterday at its San Francisco HQ, Pinterest unveiled “Buyable Pins,” a new feature that allows its users to buy brands' products directly from its platform. Now pinboards that were previously just curated collections of aspirational items can become bonafide e-commerce sites.

“Our pinners have been super clear about what they want,” Pinterest CEO Ben Silberman said at the event. “People want to buy things on Pinterest.”

Now, when scrolling through their Pinterest dashboards and feeds, users will be able to see certain items marked with a blue price tags that mark them as available for direct purchase. Through a few clicks, they can scroll through multiple images of the items, select the one they want and then choose their mode of payment (Apple Pay or credit card.) They only have to enter their credit card and address information once for Pinterest to remember it for future purchases, a welcome feature, especially for mobile shoppers. The delivery and customer service follow up is all handled by the merchant, with Pinterest only providing the front end for the transaction.

For now, Pinterest has a select number of preferred brands to pilot the program, including Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Kate Spade and Nordstrom's. The company said it will have over two million products available for purchase at launch later this month. Eventually any brand with a Shopify account (the service powering the purchase capability on the platform) will be able to add Buyable Pins.

So far, Pinterest says it won’t charge either merchants or consumers a fee for purchases on its platform, pledging to keep prices exactly the same on the merchant’s own websites. However, in order to get preferential visibility for their Buyable Pins in user’s feeds, brands will be encouraged to pay for Promoted Pins, which is how the platform hopes to make money.

Of all the social media platforms out there, Pinterest is perhaps the most suited to being a vessel for e-commerce, with Instagram being the only one that could rival its aesthetic qualities. Its user interface is optimized for displaying beautiful images, showcasing products in the best possible way. Compared to the text heavy interface of Twitter, or the sparse white and blue elements of Facebook, it’s easy to see why Pinterest is a far more attractive place to purchase an item.

Pinterest is also designed to help users stumble across items they didn’t know about. It’s that element of discovery and inspiration that makes Buyable Pins so compelling. It gives users the opportunity to find things they didn’t know they needed, and rapidly act on that impulse.

“Most online shopping is great if you know what you’re looking for, and in-store shopping is great for discovering new items ” said Silberman. “Buyable Pins is the best of both worlds.”

For retailers, Buyable Pins provides a chance to capture consumers at the height of their emotional engagement with a brand or product. It’s also a boon for smaller retailers or boutiques who can’t afford to have their own online store, and can instead leverage Pinterest’s huge audience. While they might have to give up a certain amount of control by allowing their product images to be hosted on an outside platform, it makes sense for brands to go to where their customers are. The platform already drives more referral traffic to brand websites than LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit combined. Having an additional e-commerce outlet on Pinterest could serve as a gateway to the rest of their products, allowing opportunities for new audiences, and crucial new information about how they interact with their brand.

“It’s a new and different way for customers to meet the Macy’s brand,” said Serena Potter, group vice president and head of the digital media team at Macy’s. “For example, a lot of them might know about our shoes, but could eventually discover our home goods through Pinterest, something they might not have been looking for before.”

For brands, being able to both market a product and complete its sale on the same platform is a huge advantage. And while Pinterest may be an external platform whose terms they will always have to agree to, the unparalleled access to an audience primed for purchasing is a difficult thing to pass up.