The novelty is newsworthy -- but will interest in Pinterest wane, or is there real business value for ecommerce websites?
Why an API?
Pinterest's is an example of an external API (as opposed to an internal API, such as a shopping API), which provides third party developers access to content and functionality to bake into their own applications. So far, the public Pinterest API supports top pins, recent pins, related pins and search. Upcoming features will support mashups, such as tapping into keyword trends on Pinterest to populate a site's own merchandising.
The Pinterest API includes goodies like analytics, a mobile SDK (software developer kit) for stuff like push alerts and rich pins, which allow brands to include metadata like star ratings, price, real-time availability and where to buy.
The API has clear benefits to brands, but also enriches Pinterest's value to brands, and is a natural step towards future advertising and monetization models for the social network. For ecommerce sites, leveraging the Pinterest API opens a new world of merchandising and content marketing.
Pinterest API for Merchandising
Sales records and on-site data of what's popular misses what's going on off your site. People pin items they think are cool and want to share with the world, while web analytics record what people look at, save to favorites and purchase on your site. The ability to tap into search-and-pin trends and translate them into home page, category / search, product page and email assortments can improve merchandising effectiveness, while its "social proof" injects a layer of persuasion that can influence customers.
Pinterest's API launch partners have already found ways to pull pin-formation into their sites:
ModCloth has long been using social sites to understand their customer, anticipate demand and refine their buying strategy. Now with the Pinterest API, ModCloth can share trending pins with customers, which offers a new and fun way to discover products (rather than browsing categories), a one-stop place to have fun and re-pin (no need to click through to product pages), and fresh content that updates daily.
Pinterest was made for sites like ModCloth -- every item in its catalog is inherently pinnable. Not all product types are that way. Polka dot dresses, yes. LED TVs, not so much.
Wal-Mart mashes up recent pins with recently reviewed, recently sold, best selling and top-rated items. Customers can filter results if they want to hone in on trend type or product category (great for gifting seasons).
Target's application of the Pinterest API is brilliant. It shows pins on category pages, matching suggestions to user context and purchase intent. It also interacts with the user. When you roll over a thumbnail, it pops out a new level of cross-sells related to the trending item (they don't have to be trending items, they're based on "people who viewed this also viewed.") Again, the user can pin directly from the widget, and also see star ratings.
Even publishers are gettin' in on it. Random House has a book discovery tool, but it needs to find a way to de-dupe titles as there are many that appear several times.
Pinterest API for Content Marketing
Beyond products, other types of content can be pinned, like recipes, how-to guides, video, blog posts, et cetera.
Whole Foods is a brand that doesn’t sell online, but certainly leverages digital marketing and can use this for cross-channel sales. Consider a mobile user that can browse top recipes in-store and translate them to shopping lists. Recipes can already display ingredients through Rich Pin metadata, and the vision for Rich Pins is for developers to be able to create their own metadata, which could tie back to product IDs (for online grocery), and could be integrated with mobile apps.
Pinterest supports article pinning, which Disney’s BabyZone shares on its Products page.
Its presence also spreads awareness that is is on Pinterest and grow its follower base, which as of writing has only 621 following.
Will Pinterest merchandising be a passing fad?
It's always cool and blogworthy to see new social tricks play out on retail sites. We've all seen shiny objects like Facebook Connect generate buzz, but fail to deliver value for all but the largest and most socially connected brands, like Amazon.
Naturally, Pin-tigration will work better for brands and websites that are already doing well with the social network. For them, it offers a way to amp up social proof, facilitate discovery and sharing, and collect analytics and spot trends for better merchandising. For these businesses, the Pinterest API is good news, and should have long term value -- so long as Pinterest remains popular.
The exciting opportunity for all brands is the ability to bring word of mouth and trending data from social networks into the ecommerce application, and to "socialize" content and enrich the customer experience. Pinterest is not be the only source involved, but Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine and all that's to come may play a role, along with other sources of data including in-store Beacons and interactions with interactive advertising units. It's the public APIs that will make this possible, with private APIs making innovation possible.