Why Pin It when you can Buy It? (I’ll tell you why)

“This is revolutionary!” is what my coworker exclaimed when he first heard about Pinterest rolling out Pinterest’s Buy button back in June of 2015. The concept was simple – let people purchase products featured in Pins straight from Pinterest. “Everybody browses on Pinterest, and letting people purchase straight from Pinterest is brilliant. It removes the friction between seeing the Pin and actually purchasing it.” he had said.

When the Pinterest Buy button was first rolled out, it was expected to be revolutionary. For example, take fashion. People look on Pinterest for outfit ideas and to see the latest trends. Maybe you see a leather jacket and consider buying one. You type “leather jacket” into Pinterest and you can see jackets for sale right on the site. You can then purchase the jacket without ever having to leave the app.


Over 30 million Pins were available for purchase from retailers ranging from Macy’s to Michael’s to smaller Shopify stores. The goal of the Buy It button was to take out the middle man. Normally, users would see a Pin they like on Pinterest, then have to go find the product on the company’s website. Pinterest’s Buy button makes the process quicker and easier by removing that extra step. Users can even zoom in on images to check out the details before taking the plunge and purchasing.

It’s clear how this would be something that retailers want to participate in. With minimal effort, they can raise sales of their products. Removing that extra step makes the funnel shorter and likely would raise conversion rates, since the shorter the buying path, the more likely people are to go to the last stage of buying. It also helps get the brand in front of people who have never heard of the brand before, without the company needing to spend a ton of money on marketing. Users are the ones who repin Pins and help spread the product across various users’ feeds.

4 months after launching the Buy button, the number of buyable pins doubled to 60 million. Early results also say that the rate at which users purchased from buyable pins doubled compared to regular pins.

Interestingly enough, Pinterest didn’t plan on monetizing the Buy it button for themselves. They plan on sticking to advertising (Promoted Pins) only for revenue.

This was all back in 2015. However, now in 2016, when I search for “leather jacket” on Pinterest, here’s what I see.

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None of these Pins have the blue Buy buttons. What happened to them? Wasn’t the Buy button supposed to be revolutionary? Why am I having so much trouble finding a Buyable Pin on Pinterest?

Well, turns out that the results of Buyable Pins this past year have not been great. The Buy buttons generate very low sales volume, and for large companies like Macy’s and Nordstrom’s, it’s an insignificant amount. There are so many other Pins on the site that the Buyable ones get lost in the shuffle. Plus, companies can’t guarantee that the product in the pin will still be in stock. And, the most popular pins tend to be hairstyles or recipes – things that cannot be purchased.

Also, people simply aren’t used to purchasing items on Pinterest. Think about it, would you start buying items straight off of Facebook? Of course Pinterest is quite different from Facebook, but users still think of both as social networking sites. It would require people to change the way they behave and the way the think about social media sites in order for Pinterest to be successful in promoting buyable pins. Twitter also had a Buy button back in 2014, but has since gotten rid of the button due to it being a bust.

So what is Pinterest doing about this? Well, it seems like nothing. Since Pinterest wasn’t even making money off of the Buyable Pins in the first place, they don’t have that much incentive to make the Buyable Pins work. Instead, Pinterest has been focusing on Promoted Pins. A quick scroll through Pinterest will show you that, unlike Buyable Pins, Promoted Pins are really being pushed in your face. They’re everywhere on the site, and unlike display ads, they aren’t blocked by AdBlocker.

What’s the difference between Promoted Pins and Buyable Pins? How come one of them is successful enough to be everywhere while the other seems to have faded away? It’s probably because the Promoted Pins typically offer something to the user, such as tutorials, free samples, and product reviews. They aren’t explicitly trying to get users to purchase their product, and instead try to create value for the users. Users respond better to these inbound marketing tactics than they do to a Pin that wants you to buy the product right there and then.

The takeaways for businesses here is that to be successful with advertising on Pinterest, you have to realize that users use Pinterest for browsing and not for shopping. Instead of asking users to buy a product right away, introduce them to your brand by offering something for free, whether it’s a product tutorial or even a free sample.


  1. I loved this blog! I actually was very excited about the Buy button on Pinterest as my Computers in Management innovation project freshman year took the concept inspiration boards such as Pinterest and using them for eComm and adding shopping capabilities. I think Pinterest will see success for the buying capabilities in categories such as DIY or advertised products but the problem with majority of Pinterest is that it is “aspirational.” People turn to Pinterest for inspiration and aspiration; pinning things they one day want to do or buy. I think this is such an amazing idea and it will be interesting to see how they continue to improve it!

  2. A student of mine in in the past did a great post on how the NHL uses Pinterest to support women hockey fans. It was a fabulous (and counterintuitive take). That may be the best way for companies to leverage pinterest, as a way of creating fan communities to share amongst themselves.

  3. vicmoriartybc · ·

    As someone who never really got into Pinterest, I learned a lot from this post! At first, I was surprised that the Buyable Pins weren’t a huge success. Being able to buy something with basically a click of a button straight from the app sounds seamless and enticing. However, it does make sense why they chose to remove those pins. If they weren’t really generating a high volume of sales, they were probably just distracting from the user experience on Pinterest. For example, I’d get really annoyed if every tweet I read featured a link to buy a product – that’s not what I go on Twitter for. It’ll be interesting to see if Pinterest tries to incorporate Buyable Pins, or something like them, again in the future.

  4. As someone who is on Pinterest daily, I still learned a lot from this post! I’ve never purchased anything on Pinterest but there’s some things I wish I had. To be honest, I usually browse (as you said) and will try to replicate any of the outfits or even recipes I see. I would never buy my food recipes from there and often times the websites the clothes appears on is not always reputable. However, Pinterest has certainly increased my use of Amazon. While there is no way to correlate the two (and I wish there was), I will often see a product on Pinterest, check Amazon and read the reviews there and then prime it on to my house. Therefore, Pinterest may not need the buy button but it certainly instigates buying! Great Post!

  5. polmankevin · ·

    This is a really interesting blog. I find it fascinating how social media sites (and businesses in general) can find an idea revolutionary, to only drop the feature less than a year later. This blog does a great job of highlighting how the culture of social media sites can dictate the success of their new features. At first glance, the buy it button sounds like a great idea. But when you understand the site and the way that its users utilize the service it becomes obvious why users may be skeptical to use the buy it button. Additionally, I like the way Pinterest responded to this adversity. Realizing that the feature didn’t fit the purpose of the site and changing accordingly shows good leadership.

  6. Wow thank you so much for sharing this with us! The buy button is actually something that I had no idea ever existed but is something that I admit I definitely feel should of been implemented in Pinterest. There are numerous times that I am on Pinterest and I see something and I think, “I want that”, and then frustrated, I search the internet trying to find it. It is intriguing how it skyrocketed at first and now does not flourish. I wonder if something like this could be brought back?

  7. I love strolling through Pinterest for DIY ideas and makeup swatches, and I can see why the Buy buttons (which I’ve never heard of before) didn’t work too well. It’s kind of like looking at an inspiration cork-board where I’m attracted to different eyeshadow tutorials and may want to invest in the makeup used; however, I haven’t built a personal connection where I can directly try out those eyeshadows and see what they look like in real life. Reviews are great ways to market products, but I think many consumers like myself are still more comfortable experiencing products in person before buying them. Also, even though Pinterest can allow me to directly buy the product, there’s this paranoia in the back of my conscience that these products may be fake and it’s more reliable to buy them directly off their retailer’s site.

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