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Jul 16, 2019 | 4 minute read

How the visual discovery engine of Pinterest is revolutionizing eCommerce

written by Kristin Schepici

I see it, I like it, I pin it, I get it

Visual search is the latest emerging ecommerce trend with great potential to transform the digital shopping experience. However, we’re merely scratching the surface on its influence on the buyer journey – from social media to SEO there is still a lot of data and machine learning to uncover.

But what we do know, is it’s currently favored over text description when it comes to shopping online. 

Intent Lab reports that 59% of US consumers find visual information more important than textual when shopping online. Although this weighted preference “is dependent upon the products they are shopping for” and especially when looking for inspiration.

One of the biggest challenges in commerce is the ability to help consumers discover inspiring ideas that are broad enough to reach most yet are tailored enough for individual personalized preference. 

When inspiration browsing online, most consumers don’t know what they’re looking for until they see it, or they don’t have the words to describe it via a traditional search. 

Enter in Pinterest. A visual tool that can help people who may not have the right words to describe what they're looking for, but they may know it when they see it.

Since 2010, Pinterest has been the go-to visual discovery engine for people looking for inspiration for their lives, from recipes to home décor to travel destinations and more. 

According to Pinterest, there have over 200 billion Pins across a range of interests, which others with similar tastes can discover through search and recommendations. Its more than 250 million monthly users around the world access the platform via iOS and Android apps and at

Within the last few years, Pinterest has been working on features within the platform for more shopability and improved product discovery and recommendations. 

“One of our priorities at Pinterest is to help people, not just find and discover those inspiring ideas, but then help them bring them into their real life and get off the platform, buy and do those things,” said Amy Vener, Head of Retail Strategy, Pinterest. 

And it’s working! According to a Gfk, US Path to Purchase Study, 57% of weekly Pinterest users have referred back to the platform while shopping in-store. 

Users typically find out about or start on Pinterest due a life moment, e.g. a wedding, a new baby, new home – or seasonal moments like the holidays or back to school. Users then become “Pinners” as they are lovingly referred to and find that the platform can provide inspiration for more than just that one element of their lives they initially came for. 

From the inspiration, Pinterest has developed tools to allow Pinners to now take action and bring that inspiration to life. Brands and retailers are enabled to upload their full catalogs of products, the product details and link back to their ecommerce pages. Pinners seamlessly go from Pinterest into the ability to purchase.

“Visual search is a big piece of how we allow retailers [to] be able to feature ideas that are tailored to consumers,” said Vener.

The latest shopping products bring shopping everywhere across the platform, including:

  • Shoppable Product Pins - There are hundreds of millions of in-stock products on Pinterest. Click a Product Pin and you’ll be taken to the checkout page on the retailer’s site
  • Catalogs: Brands can upload their full catalog and turn products into shoppable Product Pins across Pinterest
  • Shop the Look: Click the dots on Style and Home Decor Pins to find where to buy multiple items within a Pin
  • Shop a brand: Browse products from your favorite, or newly discovered brands
  • Lens camera search: Using the camera on your phone, take a photo of a product offline and get related ideas for products and how to style them as search results

Because Pinterest is a search and discovery platform (and not based solely on a following model), retailers of all sizes are discovered. The platform notes that, 97% of the 1,000 most popular searches are unbranded and generally start with a search like “black boots” or a visual search, instead of a specific brand name.

One retailer seeing great gains with Pinners is menswear company The Tie Bar. They’ve uploaded over 8K of their products to the Pinterest Catalogs platform and have generated a return on ad spend (ROAS) at over 5X. 

Pinners are pivoting from inspiration on the platform to taking action on the retailer’s site. Retailers can also benefit from an SEO perspective on the platform and increase distribution and target pinners based on traditional demographics such as gender, zip code, etc. But the secret sauce for Pinterest is to help retailers connect with consumers based on taste or style. It’s a taste-based relationship. 

Such as the case with direct-to-consumer shoe company Rothy’s. They found an audience on Pinterest of people who were looking for sustainable fashion options. Rothy’s shoes are made of 100% recyclable plastic water bottles. Match made in Pinners heaven! Rothy’s saw referral traffic from Pinterest grow +35% month over month once they increased focus on Promoted Pins as part of their overall strategy.

Pinterest is helping people discover new ideas that they didn't know existed and opening up the potential for brands and retailers to inspire and reach those consumers with the preferences, style and taste that are best suited. It’s personalized shopping for the masses and targeted ecommerce growth for the brands.