Why Merchants Need to Take a Look at Pinterest

While Facebook and Twitter continue to dominate the attention of marketers, retailers are wondering what the emerging visual pinboard known as Pinterest means to their business.

According to Shareaholic, Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined. Our own internal data shows that total referral traffic from Pinterestincreased almost 300 percent between July and December 2011 for five specialty apparel retailers. The website is especially popular among women, who account for 58% of Pinterest’s traffic, according to Experian Hitwise.

Given the power of Pinterest to drive website traffic, it is critical for brands to consider a strategy for using Pinterest. Here are some tips to get started:

Consistency is the name of the game
One retailer that has successfully used Pinterest is home design emporium west elm, which currently has over 14,000 followers on the site (meanwhile, most retailers still have no presence at all).

The key to west elm’s success is that it has maintained a consistent brand aesthetic between its website, print catalogs and its Pinterest page. A customer looking to redecorate their kitchen may love the Moroccan prints or aquamarine décor they see on the west elm ecommerce website. And they will not be let down when they visit its Pinterest page, which is full of lush photographs of Moroccan throws, rugs and dishware and aquamarine vases and wall coverings. This does not mean every image from the website should be replicated on the Pinterest page, but that the overall aesthetic continues throughout.

Don’t push product; build community
Whether the retailer is Nordstrom, Dwell Studio or Gap, Pinterest boards that exude the most authenticity will not only pin up photos of products, but will create boards around certain themes or moods. For example, Dwell Studio is known for its “undecorated” look that screams my-home-looks-great-without-trying. The company knows its customers are passionate about this design philosophy, so its very first board is called “undecorate” and includes pins of its own home furnishings mixed in with those of its customers’ home interiors.

The key is to have fun. Dwell Studio, which has managed to create a whole lifestyle brand around the company, named one of its boards “What We’re Eating” and includes photos of delicious looking sandwiches. Dwell Studio doesn’t sell food, but as part of its push for authenticity it is creating its own vision of the world for its customers.

Another example of a retailer who has done a good job of using Pinterest to build community is Gap. Gap’s Pinterest board includes pins of popular fashion bloggers wearing Gap clothing in addition to other non-Gap items, such as a denim couch or a photo of cuffed khakis, which represent its brand.

While any retailer can use Pinterest, it is important to look and feel authentic.

Make it easy
By adding “Pin It” buttons to your website, a consumer can see a photo she likes and pin it to her own board, effectively advertising your own products for you. You can also add a Pinterest icon to emails that you send to potential customers.

If one of your products is getting a lot of attention on Pinterest, you should find a way to highlight it on your website with a tag that says “Popular on Pinterest.” Drawing attention to popular brands is a proven way to pique an online shopper’s interest – and encourage sales. And the result of pointing these items out, known as badging, can be a significant increase in average order value, conversion rate, and revenue per session.

Another tip is to create a Pinterest board, as Gap did, which highlights popular Gap images on Pinterest. It’s a two-way street where your website and Pinterest board can cross-pollinate each other.

Interact with them
Don’t just pin what you want consumers to see, listen to them as well. See what pins they are posting of your products and even let community members post to your board. This way the community feels ownership and helps populate it with the items they most want and love.

Experiment and find what works
While ecommerce early adoptershave begun experimenting with Pinterest, most retailers are waiting on the sidelines to see if Pinterest is worth the effort. That may be a mistake. Now is the time to dive in and see what the hype is all about. It may be the Wild West out there, with retailers experimenting to try and find what works best.

But by the time the majority of retailers catch on and begin testing the Pinterest waters, you will be ahead of the game having tried out new ideas and messages while optimizing the tactics that drive the best results.

Blair Lyon is vice president of marketing at Monetate.

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