Why Pinterest's 'Buy It' button is big for online retailers

Pinterest users will soon be able to make purchases directly from the site via a new 'Buy It' button. The concept of 'Buyable Pins' is simple, but it could play a key role in the future of online retail.

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Pinterest's iOS app with 'buyable pins.'

Credit: Pinterest

Later this month, Pinterest users will be able to purchase some of the products they "pin" without leaving Pinterest's app or website. The new "Buy It" button will show up next to the "Pin It" button that appears when you're about to pin an image of a pair of shoes you like or a coffee table you've had your eye on.

According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 Pinterest users, from Pinterest and Millward Brown Digital, 87 percent of them looked to the service when researching a buy, but 25 percent say they didn't make a purchase or visit a manufacturer's website after viewing an item. The "Buyable Pins" should be a boon for businesses, particularly retailers that see engagement from the site but few sales.

[Related: Why your business needs a Pinterest presence]

"What's interesting about Pinterest is [the] engagement rate has always been incredibly high," says Susan Etlinger, industry analyst at Altimeter Group. "At the same time, they have not had the corresponding ability to know whether pins translate into sales."

The Buy It button is a fairly simple feature, but it could have a big impact on businesses. Today, Pinterest users have to click on the image of a product and go to the original website to find out more or to purchase it. Buyable Pins eliminate the second step and let users buy products from the Pinterest app or website using a credit card or Apple Pay.

Customer data in a Pinterest pin

From the retailer's perspective, the Buyable Pins will provide much more data on the people who pin their products, as well as who buys them. This information is critical for companies that use Pinterest as a sales and marketing tool.

"The code in that tiny button enables them to see a whole lot," Etlinger says. Retailers can learn about products that are selling that they may not have known about and see the times of day with the most sales. "It's rich analytical information."

[Related: 5 Things CIOs Need to Know About Pinterest]

Companies that think the new feature will detract traffic from their websites should be patient and focus on the discovery rather than the conversion, according to Etlinger. For example, if a consumer sees a pair of shoes on Pinterest from Macy's.com, and they aren't already a Macy's customer, that's a win for the retailer because it could gain a buyer who otherwise wouldn't have discovered the shoes. Pinterest also isn't taking a cut of the sales, and companies won't be charged a fee to use the Buy It button, at least not at first.

"It will be interesting for Macy's to look at the difference from traffic that comes to their site with intention versus traffic that comes through Pinterest," Etlinger says. "Pinterest will be a place to focus on better understanding the customer's discovery process."

Prepare for Buyable Pins, polish your supply chain

Businesses should make sure their supply-chain and inventory systems are in tip-top shape and are well integrated with Pinterest if they expect to see significant results from the Buyable Pins. "One of the things about Pinterest is that you can see a pair of shoes that might be from last spring and may be out of stock and that can be very frustrating for someone with [the] intention of making purchase," Etlinger says.

The Buy It button will initially be rolled out to large retailers, including Nordstrom and Macy's, and then to smaller companies in the future. Etlinger says the process will be a learning experience for Pinterest and its retail partners. "This is going to be a slower rollout than some people want it to be. Even though it's a simple blue button, there's a lot of complexity behind it."

This story, "Why Pinterest's 'Buy It' button is big for online retailers" was originally published by CIO.

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