Pinterest Sends Shoppers to Stores

October 20, 2013

For the last year or so, many of the articles about retail featured in this newsletter mentioned the perceived scourge of showrooming. This thoroughly modern phenomenon occurs when shoppers visit a brick-and-mortar business solely to browse before they ultimately buy a product for cheaper online. Fear over showrooming has gripped much of the retail world, leading at least one company to start charging people to look around their stores.

According to a recent Harvard study, however, the threat of showrooming may not be as serious as originally suspected. Out of a pool of 3,000 social media users, only 26 percent admitted to showrooming regularly. Most interestingly, though, 41 percent said they did the exact opposite, meaning they bought items in stores that they had previously discovered online. Many of these “reverse-showroomers” are active on Pinterest, a social network that allows users to “pin” certain products or images they enjoy onto a personalized online “board.” 36 percent of surveyed Pinterest users under 35 said they bought an item after pinning, repinning or liking it.

By studying these consumers closely, retailers stand to learn a lot about the complementary relationship many people have developed between online and physical retailers. For instance, one prototypical consumer cited by the study is generalized as the “deal-seeker.” This person followed a link from a retailer’s email to another social media site where she discovered a cute, affordable sweater. She pinned the item on her Pinterest board and later followed through with a shopping trip. Others, known as “non-seekers,” simply stumble into deals by receiving offers for products they have pinned. One non-seeker who had pinned a picture of a mirror received a message from Pinterest telling her about an in-store sale of the item, which led her to buy it that week. If more of these people indeed exist in the real world, then the rise of the Internet may not signal the end of brick-and-mortar retailers after all. In fact, as long as companies are not afraid to engage with their customers through social media, they could end up increasing their foot traffic.



  1. Does there appear to be a clear path consumers are taking in purchasing decisions?
  1. What’s an important fact all retailers must remember about consumers?


Source: David Sevitt and Alexandra Samuel, “How Pinterest Puts People in Stores,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 2013. Photo courtesy of Karina Minteer.