“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.
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.