Pinterest is shifting from scrapbook to marketplace, but when it comes to selling fashion it faces stiff competition from other visually rich digital platforms that blend shopping with shareable content.
When online pinboard Pinterest added new shopping functionality to its site last month, the Drapers team was sceptical about its relevance to fashion brands and retailers – “People don’t use Pinterest to buy clothes,” we scoffed.
Since its launch in 2010, Pinterest has carved out a niche for itself as the place to find inspiration for weddings, home décor and other creative projects – gaining 250 million users worldwide along the way. Introducing shoppable pins is a natural evolution, and lifestyle products will likely sell well. However, it is not a destination for fashion.
Pinterest insists that this could change. It points to a wider shift in consumer behaviour – while it was once seen as a cardinal sin to sell directly to people through the apps they interact with every day, now shoppers want to make streamlined purchases on their mobiles.
Even if it does manage to convince people that it is a place to buy fashion, Pinterest faces stiff competition. Instagram updated its functionality in September, so now the whole app is shoppable – including Stories and the Explore tab. Rumours persist that it is developing a standalone shopping app, although it tells Drapers there is “nothing to announce at this time”.
“Pinterest allows consumers to unleash their creativity and engage with products and brands on a deeper level,” says Lorna Hennelly, beauty and fashion analyst at Euromonitor. “However, it doesn’t necessarily offer the constant cycle of newness that consumers crave – a key part of Instagram’s appeal and success.”
Meanwhile, new players are setting their sights on the UK market. Spanish app 21 Buttons, for example, lets users buy clothes posted by friends and influencers, and it is investing heavily in acquiring more users in the UK.
“The way that people discover and engage with fashion and shopping has shifted,” says Gord Ray, EMEA product marketing manager at Instagram. “Our phones have become shop windows – and social media has become a new place for brands and shoppers to meet.”
Pinterest has 10 million users in the UK. If it can reinvent itself as a marketplace for fashion and homewares, it could become a significant ecommerce player – certainly in the homeware sector. However, competition for share of the clothing market is fierce, and it has a long way to go before it becomes an essential sales channel for fashion brands.
Pinterest’s marketplace evolution
Following last month’s update, hundreds of millions of pins on Pinterest now link directly to product pages on retailers’ sites, so customers can buy the items in a few clicks. These product pins appear in the home feed, search and recommendations.
“[Today’s] shoppers look for streamlined purchasing in apps they are already using, which in today’s world means social media and online platforms,” says Tim Weingarten, head of shopping product at Pinterest. “Every time you see a product you like on our platform, you should be able to buy it, or something like it, based on your unique taste. That’s our vision for shopping with Pinterest.”
Asos, John Lewis and Burberry are among the big names that are using Pinterest to highlight their latest collections, or their take on a particular trend. Until now, the only way to buy a featured product has been to click through a link below the post, which took you to the retailer’s site.
The number of followers for Pinterest accounts is much lower than on Instagram – for example, Asos has 672,000 followers on Pinterest, compared with 7.7 million on Instagram.
However, Weingarten argues that follower numbers are not as relevant a measure of success as on other platforms, because people find the content in multiple ways: “We show your content to your followers, but then our algorithms take over and show it to non-followers, so there are multiple ways to be discovered.”
Instead, Pinterest looks at number of views – Asos has more than 10 million each month.
“Pinterest is often underestimated,” says Petah Marian, senior editor at consumer trend forecaster WGSN Insight. “Because people use it as a curation tool of things they like, it’s a prime space for businesses to play in, as people are further along the purchasing funnel.”
However, for some brands and retailers, Pinterest still has its work cut out. Fast fashion etailer Missy Empire began sponsoring pins on Pinterest in late October.
Ash Siddique, managing director and co-founder, says conversion rates are still considerably lower than Facebook and Instagram: “My concern is that people just use it for inspiration. It’s good for launching new trends and it’s another step to getting your customer to your site. But it has a massive amount of catching up to do – it really needs to start pushing shopping forward.”
Instagram’s bet on shopping
Instagram’s dominance in social commerce continues. More than 90 million people around the world click on its shopping tags every month. In September, it extended shopping across its entire platform.
The Instagram Stories function, which lets users post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours, is now shoppable, as is the Explore page, which shows users photos and videos based on factors such as the people they follow or the posts they have liked.
“We are increasingly seeing brands use Instagram to tell a story about their product, take customers on a journey and eventually direct them either to purchase via a website or in store,” says Ray.
It is hard to argue with the numbers – every day, more than 400 million people use Stories and more than 200 million people visit business profiles, including those of fashion brands and retailers.
“Instagram is a fantastic tool for inspiration – particularly in fashion,” says WGSN’s Marian. “Any tools that join up the path to purchase are going to be key – be it strategies that link brands’ Instagram accounts with their ecommerce pages, or shoppable posts.”
However, there is still work to do to make it a truly seamless experience: currently, only brands and retailers can make their posts shoppable, not influencers. Ray says it is continuing to explore the right features and experiences “to make Instagram the best place to shop”.
21 Buttons’ UK push
Launched in 2016 by former McKinsey consultants Marc Soler and Jaime Farres, 21 Buttons allows influencers to share shoppable photos of their outfits with their followers. It has amassed one million registered users in the UK since its launch here in 2017, and is investing heavily in marketing to acquire more.
Using an affiliate model, 21 Buttons links to products on the websites of some of the high street’s biggest names, including Zara, H&M, Topshop and Primark, as well as up-and-coming fast fashion players such as Missy Empire and In The Style. The influencer that shared the post earns commission on each sale.
“They’ve managed to sign up quite a few influencers, big names like Sarah Ashcroft and Lissy Roddy,” says Missy Empire’s Siddique. “Another USP is that it allows multiple brands to be tagged in one picture, so the consumer doesn’t have to shop around. An influencer on Instagram can’t tag our product, and if we repost we can’t tag other brands’ products. 21 Buttons is better from a consumers’ point of view.”
The Barcelona-based app raised €15m (£11.5m) in a Series B funding round led by Idinvest Partners in July, which brought its total investment to date to $30.7m (£23.6m). It now operates in five countries – Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany and the US – and will launch in France later this month.
“The UK is one of our top markets in Europe,” says Soler, who is CEO of 21 Buttons. “Penetration is still low because we are quite new, but there is a very large market of influencers and an audience interested in fashion, so there is an opportunity to grow fast.
”We have a dedicated UK team, and our goal is to have more than 8 million users in the UK within the next two to three years.”
There is opportunity for apps such as 21 Buttons to steal market share from Instagram. But with Pinterest’s new shopping ambitions and rumours that Instagram is planning a standalone shopping platform, they had better move quickly.