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Will Pinterest Push Into E-Commerce?

  |  April 13, 2012   |  Comments

Amazon and eBay show the social sharing site some love.

In February, JWT North America CEO David Eastman admitted that he didn't understand the interest in Pinterest. "Pinterest - it's a beautifully laid out visualization of all the stuff we like, but am I the only person who feels there's something human missing here?" Eastman said during Social Media Week. "It all feels a bit empty."

Back then, I agreed. My initial visits to the site turned up scores of images for home decorating ideas - not too exciting for someone who maintains a minimalist home. And all the gushing over food art further annoyed me. Who has time to carve a watermelon into the figure of a shark and then upload a photo of it, "pin it," and comment about it?

I now must confess: I called it wrong. Pinterest can be fun, giving people a stage to show off their creativity. Pinterest provides inspiration and promotes aspirations among people who share the same passions. Marketers and businesses can no longer ignore Pinterest.

Need more evidence? Consider the stats.

Pinterest is the third most popular social networking site in the United States, attracting 21.5 million visits in the week ending January 28, 2012, according to Experian's 2012 Digital Marketer Trend report. The marketing services company says Pinterest holds promise for retail brands that "want to make more meaningful connections with their customers."

Another development: Amazon's and eBay's decision to add Pinterest Buttons to their product pages. While this may seem like a no-brainer and an incremental change, it's a big deal. Let's look at more stats:

  • The eBay Marketplace boasts 300 million listings in more than 50,000 categories.
  • Amazon says its websites are designed to enable millions of unique products to be sold across dozens of product categories.

Immediate reaction to Amazon's and eBay's support for Pinterest was mixed. "(Nice to see!) E-commerce Giants Amazon and eBay Add Pinterest Buttons," tweeted @zodot.

Another Pinterest fan disagreed. "It's counterintuitive. I don't think people will pin as much [from eBay and Amazon]," said Amy Hanson, who first got hooked on Pinterest in March 2011 when she was planning her wedding.

She contends that the images typically published on Amazon or eBay are not creative enough to inspire the Pinterest community to "pin" or post them on a Pinterest Board. (In Pinterest speak, a board is the digital equivalent of a personal scrapbook that others can view.)

In contrast, the community at Etsy, an artisan e-commerce site, complements the Pinterest community: the high-quality photos of crafts and gifts that appear on Etsy add to the aesthetics of Pinterest.


So How Will Pinterest Make Money?

The official line according to the Pinterest website: "Right now, we are focused on growing Pinterest and making it more valuable…In the past, we've tested a few different approaches to making money such as affiliate links. We might also try adding advertisements, but we haven't done this yet."

Will it become an e-commerce site? There's considerable debate over that point.

Pinterest may be a social media darling, but people won't actually buy anything from it, contends Julian Green, founder of social curation company Jetpac, in commentary published in The Telegram. "Eventually Pinterest will have to make money, but it will have to be from browsers, not buyers, because Pinterest won't drive significant purchasing," he wrote.

Others don't rule out that possibility. "The fact is that Pinterest has a huge, growing user base, many who are somewhere in the commerce funnel already (whether they're just browsing or actively searching for some kind of product). Admittedly, this is very ambitious and a slight pivot beyond its current competency, but hey look what Fab did on an e-commerce pivot!" one pundit said on Quora.

Also on Quora, pundits have tossed around other ideas about how Pinterest could make money. As one person pointed out, the ideas range from the far-fetched to reachable:

  • Offering advertising, such as branded pins or branded campaigns.
  • Getting commissions on pins that lead to the sale of merchant products.
  • Getting paid for outbound links using a service such as Outbrain.
  • Selling data to Nielsen or brands.
  • Developing a white-label service.

Or then there's always another possibility. Could an e-commerce company like Amazon or eBay end up buying Pinterest? Everyone's got a price. Just ask Instagram.

Need tips for marketing on Pinterest? Check out this guide to marketing on Pinterest.

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Anna Maria Virzi

Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.

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