Target, Nordstrom and other big chains are pinning their hopes of attracting shoppers on social media.
Retailers increasingly are using Pinterest, a social media site that allows users to create collections of photos, articles, recipes, videos and other images that are called "pins," to draw business to their own sites.
Shoes, handbags and other popular items on Pinterest are being prominently displayed in Nordstrom stores with special tags. Target, the nation's No. 2 discounter, is creating exclusive party-planning collections with top Pinterest users, or "pinners." And Caribou Coffee created a blend that was inspired by the chain's Pinterest fans.
The interest in Pinterest comes as retailers increasingly realize the power of social media sites to steer business their way. They've found while smartphone-toting Americans are spending time opining and posting photos online, they also can be encouraged to spend money.
Founded in 2009, Pinterest is a relative newbie in social media, but its unique interface sets it apart as a marketing tool for retailers. Users can bookmark images they find on the Web under topics they create. When users pin an image, Pinterest displays any picture that is associated with it. The effect is similar to a bulletin board: Pins are organized under topics called "boards." Users can follow other people's boards. The site has become popular among vacationers, designers, hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers.
Pinterest is the fourth-largest social media site, with 58.2 million unique users in March 2014, according to research firm comScore. It's behind only Facebook with 198.8 million users, Twitter with 114.3 million users and LinkedIn with 71.7 million users, comScore reports.
But Pinterest might be more valuable to retailers than some of its rivals. Data show that Pinterest users shop more when they follow links to retailers' websites. When "pinners" buy, the average order value is $199.16, compared with $92.27 for Facebook and $58.02 for Twitter, according to data analytics company RichRelevance.
Sarah Page, 22, says she has shopped on store sites as a result of finding them on Pinterest, including lulu.com and weddingdressbee.com, where she recently bought a dress.
"It definitely generates more shopping," says the business analyst from Arlington, Virginia. "You don't go to different stores' websites every day, but you check your Pinterest home page every day."
Retailers have noticed shoppers' affinity for Pinterest. Caribou Coffee, which has about 3,500 Pinterest followers, last year asked fans to share what inspires them with the hashtag #caribouinspires. Then it created a blend of coffee based on the submissions called "Real Inspiration."
And Nordstrom, which has 4.4 million followers, used data about top pinned items to create in-store displays. Executives have noticed certain items tend to go viral on the site, such as Mason jars and a crochet swimsuit by Robin Piccone, which "seems to have a never- ending shelf life" on Pinterest, says Bryan Galipeau, Nordstrom's social media manager.
For its part, Target, which has 152,000 Pinterest followers, launched a beta website in December called Target Awesome Shop that highlights the most popular Target items pinned on Pinterest. The site now offers 1,100 items, ranging from an inflatable movie screen to a tufted love seat.