Jacob Elson
Mar 15, 2019
Interview: Pinterest Announces New Shopping Features at Shoptalk
Pinterest has new shopping features. Join us as we talk to the Pinterest team about what's next for the platform and how customers can shop for their favorite products.
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We recently had the chance to interview Pinterest at Shoptalk. They announced new features allowing brands to upload their products to Pinterest and create shoppable feeds so customers can find and purchase exactly what they're looking for. We spoke to Amy Vetter and Tim Weingarten about what's next for Pinterest. 

I would love to just have each of you introduce yourselves.

Amy Vetter, I lead Retail Vertical Strategy at Pinterest.

I'm Tim Weingarten. I lead the Product team focused on shopping and the PM team that's working on designing and building shopping interfaces you see on Pinterest.

Talk to me a little bit about what you announced today.

Today we announced that we're providing opportunities for retailers with their product needs to upload their product feed on Pinterest. What that means is it gives retailers the opportunity to take what they've done to inspire consumers on Pinterest and connect them with opportunities to shop down at individual product levels. So, consumers have more choices for how they decide to interact with brands.

To add on top of that, the product team tries to always focus on pinner problems and user frustrations. One of the leading frustrations of pinners, if you talk to them, is they they find the most amazing inspiration on Pinterest, but it's not actionable, it's not useful. It gives them great ideas on how they should change their wardrobe or change living room, but it doesn't allow them to actually execute those ideas. That's been kind of the top frustration of users the last couple of years. So my team was formed to solve that problem.

The way we're trying to do that is by meeting pinners where they already are with their need. Pinterest app and so if you're on a board that you've formed around maybe trail running, they'll be like on your board, they'll be able to show you the apparel of the sneakers that match that hobby or pursuit that you have. If you have a board around the new pendant lighting you're trying to add to your hallway, we'll identify the styles and the attributes of the beautiful pictures that you're painting so we can show you actually in stock products on your home feed boards and so forth.

What we're really trying to do is use all of our tactics: visual search, AI, the metadata that we have to be able to link together all these amazing products that are coming into the catalog via the suggestion system that Amy described with all this amazing inspiration, all the billions of pins that are on Pinterest that inspire you in all these categories. Trying to kind of glue them together, create linkages between them so it can help you move down the action funnel, if you will, from inspiration closer to the purchase. That's really our vision.

Talk me through what the user experience would be with this new product. 

One of the first things we did, before we even started designing these features, was to say the name of the team is the Shopping Team, not the Commerce Team. The reason why is because when you say commerce it implies trying to get someone to buy something and trying to get them to pull out their wallet; whereas shopping is more of the joy of finding something amazing. That's sort of sometimes serendipity, sometimes more planned or purposeful, but the joy of buying that amazing sweater for your next brunch that you're going to go to or that amazing lamp for your hallway.

We're really focused on the shopping side, the discovery side. From there we kind of said, how are pinners using Pinterest today? One of the things that pinners do is they search on Pinterest for these fairly high level ideas. They'll search for living room ideas or hallway ideas. Then what we notice is that when they find something in the search results that catches their eye. Mainly, they do what's called a close up, where they go to the full width version of that pin and then they navigate down to related pins, which are all the related content that matched the search result you found.

That's the traditional way that people navigate Pinterest. They use related pins as a way to go narrower or deeper based on the visual. So Pinterest being all visual, people are not using a lot of text. They're not refining their queries with text, instead they're refining their intent through visual. So what we said was since people are doing this, they're using related pins to bounce around and find more and more specific ideas, to learn the colors, the traits, the fabrics, the attributes that eventually lead you to want to buy something. Why don't we introduce products there? Rather than building dedicated real estate, dedicate a tab like Facebook has done with Marketplace. Rather than build someplace you have to go to or even build a separate app, let's figure out how pinners are using Pinterest, where their intent is starting to rise, and then introduce shopping there.

One of the key ways we do this is on the pin itself, between the pin and the related pins, we have this module that we call related products. What we do is we say, okay, you're looking a beautiful picture of a hallway, here are the products that are stylistically similar to the image the user is looking at.

So it's really about saying every pin image on Pinterest, every board on Pinterest, they all should be shoppable, actionable rather than forcing you to change your behavior and go to this new piece of real estate. Other apps are all adding shopping real estate, you know, kind of dedicating UI and we can do the same thing, of course. But it's much more meaningful and authentic to bring it to our pinners where they are.

Do retailer merchants need to be a partner in order to be part of this?

There's two ways that our retailer's products can be part of these features. Number one is, they can be a partner, being that they've uploaded their product feed through our catalog platform. That's certainly our preferred approach. That gives us your entire inventory. That allows us to make sure that we have the best product for your inventory in the shopping features.

Completely separately, since day one of Pinterest, pinners have always saved products from e-commerce sites to Pinterest. Billions of products have been saved to Pinterest from e-commerce sites over the years from literally hundreds of hundreds of thousands of e-commerce sites, people have saved products. So it could be that you went to Madewell.com, you saved an amazing sweater that you liked and it's now on Pinterest as a pin.

We'll go and check that link everyday to make sure it's still in stock and if that's case, we can still show these features. But, the problem is that if we only have that one sweater from Madewell, we can't show something even better in those features from Madewell. That's why we encourage partners to give us their catalogs.

Tell me a little bit about the retailers and merchants that you think are doing really innovative stuff. Whether with this product or just in general with Pinterest.

Just broadly speaking, before we even got to such a mobile friendly shopping environment, retailers have used their physical stores, to generate inspiration and to try to create that feeling of discovering something new in your life. With the past, the industry has focused more convenience aspect of mobile commerce and ecommerce and helping someone get to something quickly and something they already know they want.

A lot of the innovation when I was at Walmart and a lot of their retailers have focused more on frictionless commerce. What's unique about Pinterest, and it's not new to our announce today, is what Tim was sharing, which is from the real estate of phone UI or on desktop. Being able to create more inspiring content that gets someone excited about seeing something stylistically related to what they're into. And then being able to take that and with today's announcement, being able to do a better job of pairing that to the individual product that will bring that idea to life.

Room & Board is a partner of ours and they've been working with us for a while and they're on the shopping ads product, which is essentially the ability to promote those products that are uploaded into the platform.

What I love about the way Room & Board has used Pinterest is they've done a great job of creating inspiration, but they've also found a way to help consumers with an experience that transcends the channels that they're using and helps consumers who live close to one of their physical stores understand why and how they can use the physical store to set up an appointment or to do things that are unique to why you would walk into a store. That's a different strategy than their national strategy for reaching consumers that aren't physically located close to one of their primary stores.

Using the medium to encourage to go between channels is a really neat opportunity for retailers and the industry at large to just get smarter about what works for getting someone to spend money as a result of being inspired as opposed to start with that transaction in mind.

What is next for Pinterest and shopping? What's the next level for that experience? Where do you want to take it? What can we expect in the next few years?

We continue to invest in personalization. Pinterest has always been, the home feed of Pinterest has always personalized for inspiration content you see. Personalizing products to your taste is always very hard because products have a cold start problem being that they're always coming in from these feeds so we don't have the existing age on them to figure out that this product matches your taste and not this product.

But we've been in the last year investing in taking all of our personalization technology and applying it to this product. We're getting better and better at that. In the next couple of years you should expect that when you visit on the profile of Nike on Pinterest, or Room & Board on Pinterest, we can say, based on all your pinning behavior, here's the products and the content from Nike or Room & Board and match your tastes.

Think about is as taking personalization technology and applying it to inventory and then applying it to specific brands. So we can say, for you from that brand. That's a big area of innovation for us.

Number two would be this idea that as we build out these shopping experiences, we're constantly taking more and more friction out of the discovery process. We want to be more and more of your assistant, your stylist, your decorator; where our technology can start to recognize what project are you pursuing.

Oh, you are updating your entranceway to your home and so where are the things that belong in an entranceway? Maybe a table, you need a bowl for your keys, you need a flowerpot, these are the things that you might need and we can do that by using all our visual search tactics to deconstruct the images into the constituent objects within the images.

So our tech can say every photo labeled "entranceway," there's a table on the side of the entranceway and on the table there's a bowl that has keys in it. Once we know that, we can then say, this bowl matches these products. When you immediately started a board called "New Entranceway for My Home," we can immediately say, here's all the ideas you considered, here are pictures of entranceways, here's some products that match those pictures. That's kind of the way we want to go. Just like if you were hiring a decorator. That's how you should think about Pinterest.

Traditionally, retailers think about targeting someone in market based on the zip code or their age or their gender. And while those things are relevant, factoring in style and taste is a new lever that they haven't been able to narrow their product catalog down by. It's an additional way to increase conversions and get people excited.

Say I'm a fast growing e-commerce or direct consumer brand. How do I succeed with Pinterest and how do I provide the best experience possible to pinners to my customer's view in Pinterest?

I would say two easy things. First, you want to make sure that your product catalog, your feed, is ingested. So get everything onto the Pinterest ecosystem. And then second, build a campaign that inspires consumers using a variety of different signals, whether that's insights from what you learn about users' behavior on Pinterest. But being able to build something that creatively is inspiring that then helps that consumer pivot into wanting to buy the thing you have.

Another way to think about this is, your product catalog is not changing super rapidly. I mean, even fast fashion's not changing every day. It would be every few weeks or every few months. So your product catalog is relatively static. But every day, you can be sharing new reasons why your products belong in somebody's life.

That's what, when Amy says it's both content, that's really what it is. It's both content. It teaches you how this product or this brand, it doesn't have to be a product, it can be a brand, fits into your life, why it will make your life better. That's what people are on Pinterest to do, is to figure out how they want to change part of their life. Whether it's the recipe they're going to cook for dinner for their kids or, like I said, the outfit for a dinner.

So if a brand can every day be sharing the content that they're producing to help you understand why this fits into your life, then when it comes time for you to actually pull the trigger, you know that brand, you trust that brand and their products, their catalog. These are already on Pinterest so it's easy then. They can see the connections, see what's shown from the aspiration plant to the reality of the products and the price point and so forth.

There's a bunch of tactics that their brand needs to do. They need to, like Amy said, upload their catalog, they should put our conversion pixel on their site so we can help them understand what's working and what's not and so forth. They can add additional metadata to their product catalog. But then ultimately the day to day thing is sharing stories, sharing ideas, sharing inspiration for why your brand and your products can help. And then Pinterest will do the rest.

One additional build on top of that is the mindset of the consumer. It's different on Pinterest than maybe most traditional social platforms because they're there looking for ideas as opposed to looking to get what's going on in my friends' and family's lives. So their mindset is already give me ideas to fulfill something in my life that is important to me. And brands participate in that conversation with those ideas.

Any last things that I might have missed or you want to note?

You mentioned followers in the beginning, which is interesting because it's another way that Pinterest is different because it almost doesn't even matter how many followers you have on traditional social media platforms. You need to have followers because it's the one to many model.

It does, it can. But on Pinterest, because it's a discovery engine, there are so many surfaces and what we end up stay with you, the more surfaces. So if you go to a business profile, sometimes they'll say they have hundreds of followers, but they get like a million monthly views.

That's because their content gets thrown into home feed and related products or shopping [inaudible] results or follow these different spaces. So it's across the whole site so that's something that we're trying to tell retailers too. Get the products on board, get them ingested, and then it will be sent out across the site. It's not just a hopefully someone sees it in news feed, hopefully they'll be in a shopping mindset when they see it, it's a completely different model.

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Topics: Ecommerce, Social Media, Interviews