Before speaking at PSFK's Future of Retail 2019 Conference on January 16, Amy Vener of Pinterest shares key insights on how the social inspiration platform is helping brands bring the discovery stage of shopping to ecommerce, as well as why visual search is the future of digital retail

While the digital shopping experience continues to expand and transform, it can still fall short of consumers' expectations, particularly during stages like product discovery. Retailers increasingly feel pressure to make the shopping experience seamless and offer customers optimized levels of convenience and choice, something that social discovery platform Pinterest is particularly poised to serve, and currently focusing on enabling.

Ahead of the Future of Retail 2019 Conference this January, PSFK caught up with Amy Vener, retail vertical strategy lead at Pinterest, to preview what she'll share on stage about the potential of technology like Pinterest's visual search capabilities to enhance retail experience on and offline, and how it can help create more relevant shopping experiences as well as shorten the distance between inspiration and purchase.

Could you describe the work that you do for Pinterest, and how it serves any broader consumer and industry trends you see taking place?

As the retail vertical strategy lead, I help our retail partners understand how to best use the Pinterest platform to achieve a competitive advantage within their industry. Pinterest has more than 250 million consumers using the platform each month to discover all kinds of personally relevant ideas for their life. The visual discovery that takes place leads to great opportunities for retailers to introduce the right products and services to each consumer in the moments that matter most. It’s been a lot of fun to work with the retailers that are taking the time to understand this kind of consumer behavior and use it to provide meaningful shopping experiences.

How do you help connect retailers with Pinterest?

Having been in both the merchandising and marketing organizations on the retailer’s side of the house, I have a real appreciation for all the work that goes into consistently delivering their sales numbers.

What we think is different about how retailers work with Pinterest is that on our platform the consumer’s journey involves the retailer. Consumers expect brands and their products to be the content they’re on Pinterest for in the first place. This alignment gives both the consumer and the retailer a shared experience, providing both with the discovery and the ability to buy/get/do. Telling this story is great, because everyone wins when it’s done right.

Who are your primary retailer users today, and how do they leverage the platform to enhance their business?

Both traditional and digitally native retailers have seen positive results on the platform. We believe that the key to growth on Pinterest is understanding the full consumer journey, and measuring success through that lens.

The holiday season is a great example for demonstrating this point. While Thanksgiving marks the official start of holiday shopping, people on Pinterest start planning for the holidays in September. People use Pinterest to find new holiday ideas for decorating their home, planning what they want to wear and what they might cook early on in the process.

This time of early consideration, before deciding what they will ultimately buy, is where retailers are finding new growth to their business. Being there in the early phases of researching and discovering earns retailers the chance to be there for the decision. Measurement methodologies that span across the initial consideration to the final purchase capture this value, and provide the right ammunition for bigger investments because of the incremental growth.

Are there any insights you can share on the importance for retailers today to implement social media platforms like Pinterest into their strategy?

We’ve found that 9 out of 10 people buy things because of what they discovered on Pinterest.* We believe that the open mindset people have on the platform during life’s planning moments makes Pinterest a highly successful purchasing funnel that many brands are taking advantage of. In fact, 72% of Pinners say that Pinterest even inspires them to shop when they aren't actively looking for something specific.*

In addition, Pinners are 39% more likely to be active retail shoppers and spend 29% more than people who don't use Pinterest.** In short, we think that the audience on Pinterest is extremely valuable.

What insights do you have on what consumers expect from retailers and from the shopping experience today?

Consumers are looking for meaningful shopping experiences, in stores and from their phones. Consumers want to be able to discover ideas that are personal to their individual tastes, and once they discover these ideas, they want to be able to shop—anytime, anywhere.

Today, the digital shopping experience isn't great. Discovery is hard, and taking an action once you do discover something that you like is even harder. There is enormous pressure for retailers to make the shopping experience seamless and to give consumers new levels of convenience and choice. Pinterest partners with retailers to provide this to consumers.

You emphasize the importance of personalization and contextualization in retail strategy. Can you expand upon this, and explain how Pinterest serves these ends particularly well?

Retailers need to understand the attributes of the customer—how, when and what they buy—and use that information to personalize products and services to the shopper from the first moment of discovery, creating a consistent experience across channels.

With the rise of consumer expectations around personalization, we’re seeing the most innovative retailers approach our platform in new and inspiring ways. We’ve partnered with Target to integrate our visual search technology into its mobile apps. With Lens, Target will make it easier for their guests to discover relevant products based on their personal style. A customer can take a picture of something they like in-store or elsewhere in real life and discover visually similar products available to buy at Target. This is the first integration of Pinterest Lens into a retail environment.

Technology can help create more relevant shopping experiences and shorten the distance between inspiration and purchase. For example, The Home Depot’s ‘Built-in Pin’ campaign used Pinterest insights to identify trending colors and home decor styles and featured them in a fast motion video that shows how the look can be created. The Pins give in-market consumers the confidence to create stylish looks in their own home—making the inspiring feel achievable.

What do you plan on sharing at our future of retail conference?

The impact of meaningful shopping experiences, and how we’re partnering with retailers to provide this in-store and digitally.

How does Pinterest plan to continue evolving moving forward? Anything you can share?

There’s been a lot of technology innovation in the retail industry over the course of the last few years, from chatbots to voice assistants that have impacted the consumer shopping experience. For some retailers, these innovations can be distracting to their business. At the core, retail is about introducing consumers to new ideas that inspire them to make a purchase. The future of retail centers on the ability for people to have discovery experiences. For Pinterest, this comes in the form of visual search, that is people using their eyes, like they always have, instead of tapping text or calling out commands.

Thanks to cameras in everyone’s pocket and the 175 billion Pins on our platform, we are creating digital consumer shopping experiences that mirror what it’s like to shop in the physical world. For example, if you’re shopping for running shoes in a store, you begin by visiting the shoe department, then pick out a running shoe. This would be similar to a discovery experience you have on Pinterest.

Visual technology powers everything on Pinterest, from the content recommendations to the way we serve ads. Image recognition and machine learning fuel innovative new products like Lens and Shop the Look. This technology delivers different visual marketing solutions to retailers. Unlike text or voice, visual search sits squarely in the native shopping environment consumers already understand; like with the running shoes above, it’s similar to how they shop in physical stores today.

Shifts in consumer behavior can feel subtle when they’re happening, but they have long-lasting effects on our expectations, buying habits and brand relationships. Retailers can get ahead of these changes and ensure a future of continual discovery by investing in the power of visual search. Even in a world of competing voices, the one that leaves a lasting impression is visual.


* GfK, US, Multi-vertical Pinterest in the Path to Purchase among its Weekly Users, Dec 2017

** Oracle Data Cloud DLX ROI, “Pinterest Retail Audience Profile Report”, May 201

For more inspiring insights from pioneers like Amy who are transforming the retail experience, come see an entire panel of speakers from today's most innovative brands at PSFK's annual Future of Retail 2019 Conference, tickets available now.