For the past several years, Pinterest has been viewed as a secondary social network: practical, but for all intents and purposes dragging behind the major players of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn when it comes to user engagement and potential profitability.
Now, Pinterest appears to be taking major leaps forward in the realm of social media and e-commerce trends, and it could spark a new revolution as it spreads to other platforms.
Pinterest’s latest feature is the “buy” button, which denotes what are otherwise known as buyable pins. It hasn’t yet been fully released, but it’s on its way to the Pinterest app for iPhone and iPad. Currently, it’s a feature only accessible to a handful of major brands.
Essentially, buyable pins work like normal pins; they can be viewed and shared the same way any pin can, but with one key exception. On designated pins, there will be a blue “Buy it” button accompanying the traditional red “Pin it” button in the upper-right hand corner.
Once clicked, the buy button will take Pinterest users to a simple, easy-to-follow checkout screen, where they can use PayPal or similar digital payment methods to order the item immediately in front of them.
Pinterest’s Key Position
Pinterest holds a unique position even in the realm of social media platforms. Rather than centering on personal connections, like the “big three,” Pinterest is more about connecting users with images they like, from arts and craft projects to new products from popular brands.
In this way, Pinterest serves as a giant “to do” list for the bulk of its users. Because users are already invested in these ideas, the jump to buying them is that much easier, presenting a perfect opportunity to capitalize.
Is Pinterest Evolving to Become the New Amazon?
Let’s assume for a moment that in a few years’ time, brands on Pinterest take a major liking to the “buy it” feature, and practically every brand in the country has some kind of discernible presence on the platform.
Rather than showcasing the most visual, intriguing images they can find, brands will only post images of sellable products, and users will grow used to shopping using Pinterest. Currently, Amazon operates in a similar way—it aggregates offerings from thousands of brands in a searchable, reviewable interface that customers can use before purchasing their items all at once.
But early quirks indicate that this isn’t Pinterest’s intention—at least not for now. For starters, Pinterest isn’t taking a cut of the sales (which is a key feature of Amazon’s business model). Companies that want to make more money can promote a pin (which Pinterest does make money on), but this is a revenue model more akin to social media advertising than direct e-commerce. While on the surface, the two seem similar, this is an entirely new model of e-commerce that could one day dominate the web.
Competition From Google and Facebook?
Pinterest isn’t the only major online brand looking into this type of third-party e-commerce platform. Google Shopping is undergoing a major evolution as well, introducing a startlingly similar “buy button” that allows users to immediately buy the products they see pop up in mobile ads.
Rather than directing users to an external site with its own functionality and checkout process, Google would use a familiar, all-in-one checkout for any relevant products listed in its PPC ads. Google is known for introducing and integrating many features within the context of its search engine page, from encyclopedic entries of its Knowledge Graph to third-party app integration like calculating Uber quotes. This is just Google’s latest attempt to streamline the entire “online” experience into one convenient location.
Facebook, focused more on social than search, seems to be attempting something similar. In addition to introducing a new search engine in its platform and integrating communication from multiple outside apps, Facebook is experimenting with similar in-app purchases. News Feed-based buy buttons emerged as early as last year, and the platform is still tinkering with the best way to integrate everything into one platform.
In a parallel move, Facebook recently released its Instant Articles feature, which allows select publishers to feature their work directly in the Facebook app, without having to direct users to their external sites.
A Vision of the New E-Commerce
This combination of efforts, now led by Pinterest, illustrate a new vision for the future of e-commerce. It’s one that eliminates the “middle man” role that so many online platforms have built their success on.
Users go to Google when they want to find websites that perform a certain function (in this case, selling products), and they go to Pinterest when they want to find brands that offer certain items (again, products). Now, these platforms are presenting that functionality and those products without the need for those external sites to exist. Their popularity, trust and power is such that users are perfectly comfortable using these platforms for all their required functions.
Does this mean that traditional e-commerce platforms will become obsolete? Yes and no. It’s entirely possible that within the next few years, most of these online “hubs” (social and search platforms) will offer their own range of integrated functionality, and see more direct sales and traffic than any other outside brand. But the cultural shift and functionality necessary for the complete obsolescence of independent e-commerce platforms is still decades away, and by that time, the Internet as we know it might be radically different.