More Brands are Tapping Into Pinterest's Power--But Will it Actually Drive Sales?

By now, we've all heard (almost ad nauseum) how Pinterest is the fastest-growing website and how more and more brands are scrambling to monetize on the exploding social media platform. But will Pinterest actually drive sales? Sure, the platform's got millions of users and boatloads of products are being pinned and re-pinned by the minute--but is any of that actually leading to an increase in sales profits? For now, it's probably too early to tell but The Telegraph's Julian Green argues that Pinterest's current structure, which allows pinners to curate their own boards in a way that makes sense to them but not necessarily a marketing exec, will be a huge hurdle. "For Pinterest to be successful in encouraging buying, they would need to connect the collection of images to the catalogue of products," he writes. "This is hard to do."
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Hayley Phelan
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By now, we've all heard (almost ad nauseum) how Pinterest is the fastest-growing website and how more and more brands are scrambling to monetize on the exploding social media platform. But will Pinterest actually drive sales? Sure, the platform's got millions of users and boatloads of products are being pinned and re-pinned by the minute--but is any of that actually leading to an increase in sales profits? For now, it's probably too early to tell but The Telegraph's Julian Green argues that Pinterest's current structure, which allows pinners to curate their own boards in a way that makes sense to them but not necessarily a marketing exec, will be a huge hurdle. "For Pinterest to be successful in encouraging buying, they would need to connect the collection of images to the catalogue of products," he writes. "This is hard to do."
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By now, we've all heard (almost ad nauseum) how Pinterest is the fastest-growing website and how more and more brands are scrambling to monetize on the exploding social media platform. But will Pinterest actually drive sales?

Sure, the platform's got millions of users and boatloads of products are being pinned and re-pinned by the minute--but is any of that actually leading to an increase in sales profits? For now, it's probably too early to tell but The Telegraph's Julian Green argues that Pinterest's current structure, which allows pinners to curate their own boards in a way that makes sense to them but not necessarily a marketing exec, will be a huge hurdle. "For Pinterest to be successful in encouraging buying, they would need to connect the collection of images to the catalogue of products," he writes. "This is hard to do."

Green cites eBay as an example, noting that the e-tailer "started out with an unstructured collection of product listings, got big, and then had to go back and structure all its data," so that shoppers would be able to easily find products and narrow down their search results. Pinterest, Green posits, won't be able to collect enough data on the images people are pinning, and hence won't be able to create a shopping-friendly environment.

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Then again, e-commerce pioneer Gilt may have found a way to cash in on the social media platform anyway. According to TechCrunch, Gilt has started a new "Pin It to Unlock It," feature which requires a product to be pinned 50 times (in total), before customers can purchase it. Gilt has started the promotion on the Gilt Kids' Pinterest board, but one can imagine that they'll be implementing similar strategies across broader categories soon.

“We are giant fans of Pinterest," Rachel Jarrett, General Manager of Gilt Kids, said. "We think it’s the future. This is a new and exciting way to offer a promotion. We know our moms are highly engaged there and it’s a great way to interact with them. We think this is just the beginning of endless Pinterest possibilities,”

It's certainly a noble effort on Gilt's part, and while we're sure it will encourage Pinterest users to pin more of their products, we'll be curious to see if those pins will lead to sales. Most Pinterest users are out there to pin images they find visually appealing--not products they are planning to purchase. It's the difference between an inspiration board and a shopping list--and while there's certainly cross over between the two, the strategy is by no means a safe bet.

So what could work? Green argues that "[Pinterest] will be more successful if they don’t get in the way of what users are enjoying doing already [by trying to sell them stuff directly], and just help brands advertise in a way that adds to the experience."

Another determining factor in the way brands will try to harness Pinterest's influence, is the social media platform's terms of use, which state that pinners must not "use the Service for any commercial purpose or the benefit of any third party, except as otherwise explicitly permitted for you by Pinterest or in any manner not permitted by the Terms." We've reached out to Pinterest for comment, and are waiting to hear back.

Obviously Pinterest still has a lot of growing to do--and at the rate they're going, there'll no doubt be big changes to come. But the question of its ability to drive sales is one that needs to be answered, ideally before more brands start hopping blindly on the bandwagon. What's your take?