With Buyable Pins, Pinterest Finally Adds Built-In Commerce

A much-awaited feature is designed for mobile shopping that’s fast, safe, painless–and maybe even inspiring.

From the moment it launched five years ago, people have been using Pinterest to share things you can purchase. Today, the service is home to more than 50 billion pins, a figure that’s growing by 75% a year. But even though the social network was popular with shoppers from the start, you haven’t been able to actually buy stuff on Pinterest.


Later this month, that will change. At an event at its San Francisco headquarters on Tuesday morning, the company unveiled Buyable Pins: items with a Buy It button that lets Pinterest users (or “Pinners”) make purchases with a few taps, without ever leaving the app. Buyable Pins arrive later this month, on the iPhone and iPad at first, with other platforms to come. They join a variety of other specialized pins that the company has introduced, including ones for recipes, locations, movies, and apps.

Pinterest is working with some big retailers that sell the sort of fashion and home products that people love to pin, including Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom. But it says it’s also signing up tens of thousands of other merchants, from brand names such as Cole Haan, Michael’s, and Ethan Allen to local boutiques. In all, it’s launching with 2 million products. There are no fees for sellers or buyers: The company plans to monetize commerce by letting merchants purchase Twitter-style “Promoted Pins” to raise the visibility of products they’d like to get in front of Pinners.

Made For Mobile

“80% of people who buy things on Pinterest do so on a phone,” said Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann at the event. “Five years ago, 100% of users were using it on desktop.” He added that many conventional e-commerce sites don’t offer a happy mobile experience: “There are fiddly menus, there’s a lot of data entry, you have to squint…we don’t want Pinners to have to go through this.”

So the new shopping features are optimized for phone use. You can tap around to view multiple images of a product, skim feeds of buyable items in categories such as jackets, and quickly pay with either Apple Pay or a credit card. Pinterest is working with major names in e-commerce and secure payments such as Braintree, Demandware, Shopify, and Stripe to enable it all.

Can Pinterest add a new commercial angle without messing up the minimalist appeal that has made it huge in the first place? “Everything at Pinterest starts with beautiful visual discovery,” Silbermann said at the event. “Pinterest isn’t about getting your chores done. Pinterest is about discovering products you love and getting inspired in the process.” Built-in shopping has been Pinners’ top request, he said.

With Buyable Pins, the company has an opportunity to streamline its app rather than complicate it, since the pins eliminate the need to leave Pinterest when you go into purchasing mode. “With both Instagram and Pinterest, if you want to buy something, it’s frustrating,” says Susan Etlinger, an analyst at Altimeter Group. Pinterest, she says, “is making the process a lot simpler. As long as it works smoothly, it should be a good experience.”


About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.