There’s a trend in social media starting to emerge. No longer limited to only encouraging social connections and discussions, modern platforms are constantly adding new features to make life easier and more manageable for their users. But these features tend to be added slowly, carefully, and deliberately. Major platforms like Facebook are well-accepted, but they aren’t invincible—changing too quickly could alienate their users or result in negative blowback.
Pinterest, in contrast, is making major moves in the social world and doing so quickly. Back in June, they introduced a “buy” button for a handful of retailers active in the platform. Free to use, the feature would essentially make images of certain products “buyable” on mobile iterations of the app. Since then, they’ve scaled up the feature, publicizing it and now offering it on several major e-commerce platforms like Magento, Shopify, IBM Commerce, Bigcommerce, and Demandware. Their waitlist is growing quickly, and Pinterest has no sign of slowing down in their expansion of the feature.
Knowing this, is it possible that Pinterest is trying to force the “social shopping” trend? If so, will users reject the feature, seeing it as a money-grab by social media platforms they used to trust?
Social media apps have always tried to cater to advertisers, but they’ve done so in subtle, methodical ways up until now. For example, Facebook has always offered advertising for corporate brands on the platform, but those advertisements are mostly just paid posts that are natively embedded in a newsfeed—in a sense, brands are just paying for some extra organic exposure. After years of this system in place, Facebook expanded to include new types of ads—like a carousel of products that lead users to a shopping cart for purchase. Even so, this carousel is less prominent than other forms of advertising, and Facebook allows users to toggle what kinds of ads they see. Instead of forcing a social shopping hybrid app, Facebook is only gradually transforming and never changing its primary function.
On the other hand, Pinterest doesn’t seem worried about the repercussions of changing too quickly. It released the buy button after years of existence, but now that it’s out there, Pinterest is showing no hesitation in expanding it. Instead of offering one or two new features in an otherwise consistent app, Pinterest is almost becoming something of a middle ground between “social media app” and full-fledged e-commerce platform.
In a world where half the pins you find are buyable, what’s the difference between Pinterest and a platform like Amazon? It could be argued that buyable pins, if popular enough, could make Pinterest closer in form and function to Amazon than a platform like Facebook. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it could reset user expectations for the limits of a social app.
There’s a major differentiator that makes this fast transition possible for Pinterest, and less possible for more established brands like Facebook. Pinterest holds one of the highest organic rates of user activity to eventual buying decisions—meaning that when viewing pins, versus any other kind of social media content, users are more likely to eventually buy that product. Because of Pinterest’s unique format and high trust, users naturally began using it as a kind of e-commerce platform on their own. Pinterest simply connected the dots and made it easier for users to get from point A to point B. It’s less of a transition this way, and makes faster transformations possible.
The early data further suggests that Pinterest made the right move. According to recent reports, users have accepted the buy button with open arms, leading the company to expand the feature with such pace. In this way, Pinterest isn’t really jumping the gun—they’re just following their users’ requests and instructions.
Pinterest has set a unique pace for the transition into social shopping. Seeing those results, it would be natural for a platform like Facebook or Twitter to want to replicate them for their own house of brands. Despite being forerunners in the social world, an e-commerce feature would likely be lucrative, provided it could be introduced properly.
Unfortunately, Pinterest’s unique position as a buying decision juggernaut makes it so that its buy button introduction is nearly impossible to replicate, at least not exactly. Because of its current warm reception with users and practically limitless income potential, I imagine we’ll be seeing the “social shopping” trend develop more in the coming months and years. However, don’t expect other brands to copy Pinterest’s approach exactly; instead, we’ll likely see new forms of hybrid social/e-commerce models, and sneakier ways of trying to get consumers to make purchasing decisions within apps.
The bottom line here is that Pinterest isn’t moving as abnormally quickly as it might appear to be on the surface. Pinterest users were already leveraging the app to make buying decisions, and Pinterest decided to make it easier for them. Once it saw how effective the introduction was, expansion was natural. Other platforms, like Facebook and even Google, will likely follow in these footsteps, but in a much more gradual, careful way. If you’re an online retailer, the next few years will present a great opportunity to capitalize on this new social shopping trend. Stay tuned for new updates, and get the jump before your competitors.