Have you been back in the shops yet? The desire to share our collective thrill at being able to browse in an actual physical shop again must be one of the most common questions asked over recent weeks as we all adjust to the latest expansion to our freedom.
At this pivotal moment for retail it seemed a good time to gather a couple of industry experts to reflect on the seismic changes and to look at how brands can tap into the new environment. We focus in particular on how platforms such as Pinterest can help marketers meet welcoming consumers.
Both Gooch and Marker agreed that the pandemic has proven to be a catalyst for retail developments that had already begun. At the end of 2019, online sales had risen 21% year on year (ONS/ Springboard data), a trend echoed by the fact that around 10,000 stores had shut their doors. So when, in March 2020, physical shopping became largely out of bounds, most UK consumers were ready to go straight online for shopping needs.
But what happened in the wake of lockdowns easing was fascinating – in each case sales shot back to pre-pandemic levels (ibid) consumers craved the simple joy of browsing and having a chat with an assistant. It sharply underlines the power of another trend; the twin track of consumers being simultaneously keen on online shopping while also relishing the occasional human retail experience.
As Marker pointed out, this has led to tech platforms working hard to bring an element of 'social shopping' to the online experience by integrating elements such as video and interactivity. Pinterest now sees a billion video views every day, with users much more likely to purchase after viewing footage.
Shopping as a creative act
The inspiration platform was in a unique position in that it already had highly-engaged users who appreciate being inspired both by other users and retailers. “At Pinterest we're on a mission to combine the best of two worlds,” observed Gooch. “We want to bring that joy you feel from real-life shopping into the online arena.”
This is possible because of the nature of the platform. Its users (known as 'Pinners' because of the images they 'pin') are actively searching for inspiration for a project – a fun process that's about more than just the shopping. “The wonderful thing about Pinterest is that we get users onto the platform because they love it, but then we get them off again to enjoy life with their purchases,” said Gooch.
Brands can target them at each stage of the sales funnel – sometimes they may be just generally browsing, other times they will be proactively keen to buy something. But as a group they are eager shoppers; three times more likely to say they are 'always shopping' versus users of other media platforms. And when they do buy their baskets are 30% bigger. For brands, this makes for a unique blend of organic discovery coupled with the efficiency of paid advertising.
The platform has worked hard to create a commercial offering for brands that offers users an experience that feels positive and unpressured. As Gooch explained: “I don't think the untrained eye would realise they are being served an ad.” Retailer's 'Pins' are integrated into users' feeds in an attractive and unobstructive way that demonstrably succeeds – as satisfied brands such as Made.com, John Lewis and Gymshark can attest.
A Pinterest user herself, Marker is a fan of Pinterest because she has seen how well it has performed for her clients. “It's a phenomenal partner because their people are so good at sharing data with us and our clients that then helps us all collaborate on new initiatives. Their intelligence is second to none, and helps fuel activity further up the funnel.”
She also points out the unique nature of users' relationship with Pinterest in the breadth of 'moments' that it touches – from the mundane points, through the seasonal right up to those significant life moments. This breadth also extends vertically, in that Pinners can get involved in so many different retail sectors simultaneously.
Great tech, supported by hope
Marker shared some examples of the interesting activities that Pinterest has been able to facilitate for clients. One retailer has been able to use the platform to showcase both brand and inspirational content. It particularly values the variety of opportunities of touching users' lives, and has been able to customise creative for each type of occasion. High View Through Rates (VTRs) have also given this retailer confidence in Pinterest.
Another client has been able to evolve its use of the platform from solely brand building and inspiration to consideration and commerce on the strength of data from Pinterest, as well as open access to its engineering and creative teams. Pinterest's Creative Solutions team helped this retailer to hone its creative assets.
Pinterest has been keen to keep offering its users new ways to feel inspired and connected, via innovations such as Product Pins and Lens virtual search. The former offers advertisers the ability to create pins embedded with extra information, while the latter means users can upload a photograph and receive ideas related to the subject of the pic. There's also a new video ad product called Pinterest Premiere.
But although cutting edge tech is powering these developments, the real jewel in Pinterest’s crown is something much more human and enduring – a corner of the internet that offers positivity.
“Our research shows that positive online environments make people more likely to remember, trust and purchase from the brands that appear there,” explained Gooch. “In other words, it pays to be positive, and our platform offers users that chance to see what is possible.” Both audiences on Pinterest and retailers alike enjoy this hopeful tone.
As the pandemic evolves, no doubt retail consumption will continue to shift in parallel. Pinterest's experience over the past 15 months shows that those media platforms that can accurately tap into how consumers are feeling and acting are well-placed to remain relevant.
Six top tips for brands – Gooch and Marker share their pointers for online retail success:
Start with the customer – what role can my brand play in their lives?
Tonally, aim for empathy blended with positivity.
Get the e-commerce fundamentals right: frictionless, product inventory and info; slick delivery and returns; amazing service; integrated business and marketing operation.
Find trusted partners (such as Pinterest and Omnicom Media Group's Transact) that have a proven track record based on their expertise.
Be mobile first
Think Live – platforms such as Pinterest are showing the way ahead for inspirational live content.