Pinterest’s Amy Vener: How Visual Discovery Is Transforming The Shopping Experience

With billions of data points, Pinterest can build a 'taste graph' based on users' pins — and more accurately predict the content they'll want to see (and buy) in their home feeds.

Consumers have always found inspiration for potential purchases by “window shopping,” but only in recent years has the process become digital: Today, it’s likely that someone perusing options for a home renovation has browsed the web and saved images seen on social media, rather than simply browsing the home decor aisle at a department store — and this data-rich digital journey means that marketers now have the opportunity to create an engaging end-to-end shopping experience.

Allowing users to find and save inspiration on the web in this manner is the mission of visual discovery platform and “inspiration engine” Pinterest, which now has over 200 million monthly active users. What’s more, over half of these users reportedly pull up pins in-store while they shop, meaning that “pinned” content is inspiring purchases both on- and offline — and this is something that marketers can track.

“Pinterest is about helping people discover things the things they love… and then go out and do those things in real life,” said Amy Vener, retail vertical strategy lead at Pinterest. “Part of this is the mobile appeal of the platform: “80 percent of Pinterest activity is on a mobile device. And the opportunity to influence people [on mobile while they shop] is a real thing that’s core to the retail experience. And so, being able to put visual images on someone’s home feed that are personally relevant creates a much different experience for a user than going to a blank search box and typing in ‘red shoes.'”

Predicting (P)Interest

So, how does Pinterest help surface relevant content for its users, improving the chances that they will save an image — and, ultimately, purchase it either online or in-stores?

Well, as a user “reveals things they’re interested in, names their board, et cetera, we get — through billions of pins on the platform — the opportunity to collect a bunch of different data that helps [predict] what else a user pinning a certain type of content might be interested in,” Vener said. “And this data that we group together, each pin, has a set of interests associated with it. That metadata, plus the manually curated name of the board and any pin description data, allows us to build a ‘taste graph.’

“For example, this couple saved a lot of content related to some backyard landscaping research that they were doing. They pinned a bunch of boards, they went over to retailers’ site. And then what we found is that if we put drought tolerant plant content in their home feed after that, the likelihood of them engaging in the content is very high — because, well, they’ve probably killed off a lot of the plants that they did research on.”

Joking aside, the combination of billions of data points with users’ personal naming of their boards does allow Pinterest to be quite predictive when it comes to surfacing content on the home feed. Additionally, the platform has signed up six new measurement partners in the past year to help measure the impact of serving up this content — and how it impacts real-world sales.

As we wrote last year, Pinterest has also rolled out a number of features designed to keep pace the aggressive pace of social media marketing tools from Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter. In February 2017, it debuted a new search function that aims to match discovery to images, not words, called Pinterest Lens — and it’s likely we’ll see the company continue to double down on investment in image-first search functionality.

In any case, visual discovery and the way it takes place on Pinterest is worth continuing to watch for brands: 98 percent of Pinners report trying (or buying) new things they find on Pinterest, compared to an average of only 71 percent across social media platforms.

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.