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Pinterest's Retail Problem

As more shoppers use the online scrapbook to showcase brands, retailers struggle to keep pace

Fashion retailer H&M is pretty popular on Pinterest—in spite of itself. Over the last month, the social scrapbooking platform’s users have pinned, repinned, commented on or liked the brand’s products 145,000 times, according to Pinterest analytics firm Curalate (H&M is not a client). The problem is, a good number of H&M’s popular pins feature dead links—an increasing problem for retailers, said Curalate.

For example, one H&M dress has been shared on Pinterest nearly 1,200 times in the past 30 days. But clicking on that product’s pin returns the message,“Sorry, this item is no longer available.” Same goes for a pair of H&M shoes shared more than 2,700 times on Pinterest in the last month.

“Pinterest is driving a ton of people to [H&M’s] website, but they can’t buy anything when they get there,” said Curalate CEO Apu Gupta. H&M did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but the retailer is only one example of more pervasive missed opportunities. Curalate found that 48 percent of top retailers’ most popular products on Pinterest link back to expired pages. “We look and go, ‘My God, how much money are they leaving on the table?’” Gupta said.

So what gives? As far as Gupta sees it, the issue is the way brands are siloed. Big marketers typically separate their social and digital marketing teams from e-commerce. “A classic problem of commerce and marketing not working together,” said SapientNitro’s global head of social media Nathaniel Perez.

There’s an easy fix, according to Gupta. At the most basic level, brands can simply leave any out-of-stock product’s pages live on their sites, so at least users don’t think they clicked the wrong link or the site is failing. Of course, another option would be to pay Curalate to put a mechanism in place to offer an incoming Pinterest user a coupon for another of the retailer’s products, based on current Pinterest popularity.

Curalate’s top competitor in the Pinterest marketing space, Pinfluencer, is working on a similar product, per its CEO Sharad Verma. Like Curalate, Verma’s company has developed image-recognition technology which helps retailers showcase alternative items when pinned products are out of stock.

For now, the dilemma may belong to retailers, but it could have bigger implications for Pinterest, which has been lauded as the ideal social network for commerce. “On Pinterest...it’s all about the products,” said Gupta.

Added Perez: “Most retailers, in my opinion, are not focused on truly leveraging Pinterest for driving transactions.”

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