Sorry, Facebook: Shoppers Prefer Pinterest

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PinterestFacebook commerce? That's so 2011. Now it's Pinterest, the social scrapbooking site, that's striking a chord with shoppers.

Today, Pinterest users who shop online follow about 9.3 retailers on the site, compared to Facebook (FB) users, who on average follow an estimated 6.9; or Twitter users, who follow 8.5, according to the Social and Mobile Commerce survey by Shop.org, the digital division of the National Retail Federation, digital research firm ComScore and consultancy The Partnering Group.

So how has Pinterest, a relative newbie among social networks, sailed past Facebook and Twitter in capturing shopper interest?

Perhaps it's because Pinterest -- which lets users share images by "pinning them" -- is at once a platform for visually communicated ideas, an inspiration board, and a purveyor of eye candy that echoes what's most fun about shopping in the physical world. The site woos shoppers in the same way as tantalizing store displays -- by romanticizing products, which can spark the imagination and prompt a purchase.

"Pinterest emulates window shopping, so it's no surprise that retailers are finding success there," Chad White, research director at Responsys, the marketing service provider, said in a statement.

It's also a more natural venue than Facebook for shoppers to engage with retail brands, Andrew Kardon, president of online shopping and savings site JoeShopping.com, tells DailyFinance.

"Facebook, it seems, does a great job of collecting fans, but not doing much with them," he says. "Facebook users like to share items and comment. They like to either praise or criticize a store, using their Facebook page as a customer service of sorts." But they also like to stay on Facebook, he says.

By contrast, "As a Pinterest user, I can 'collect' photos of products I love from so many different stores and save them in various pin boards. It's a great way to make your own wish list of sorts, and click through later on to purchase."

Visual Story Telling Prompts Purchases

The site seems to be giving new meaning to the art of show and tell.

Pinterest has provided retailers a fresh way to tell "an ongoing visual story through images of their products and their brand spirit, a story that customers can then tell again to their friends and family members," Vicki Cantrell, executive director of Shop.org, said in a press release on the survey.

Pinterest's visual layout is also more appealing and user friendly than Facebook's, experts say.

"Facebook [offers] a short preview of an item, not too exciting. Pinterest has a nice image, you click on it for a little more info and comments if necessary, then just click the link to go to the original source. So straightforward ... I just think Pinterest lends itself to shopping so much more."

Indeed, Pinterest users are "highly inclined" to purchase items they find on the site, said Responsys' White. A survey by PriceGrabber backs that up: The price comparison site found that 21% of Pinterest users polled bought items they found on someone's Pinboard.

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But not all retailers understand how to get the most out of the site. Stores that are effective on Pinterest are savvy about interacting with their audience on the site, Kardon says. "The biggest way for a store to 'get it,' is to do something with their account that shows there's a human being behind the user name. It just makes things much more personal, and that has a huge effect on users interacting with them.

"Take the Vitamin Shoppe (VSI). There's a store I'd never expect to even be on Pinterest, let alone have a really fantastic profile. They have boards showing off yoga poses, inspirational quotes and even animals exercising," he says.

Meanwhile, Macy's (M) milks Pinterest's visual flare and penchant to inspire. "They don't just have pin boards showing all their merchandise. Instead they have a board dedicated to summer, pretty faces, and an 'I Do' board that's all about weddings," Kardon says. "Product photos are mixed in with products from other stores, as well as some great general life photos. It really gives the feeling of a family photo album, rather than just a basic product catalog."

The one difficulty with the site? It can be tough to distinguish retailers' official Pinterest pages from users' pages, Kardon says.

To do so, search the merchant's main site and see if they have a Pinterest icon that links to their page. "If so, then it's official," he says.

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