Pinterest’s CEO on How the App ‘Mimics the Best Parts of Offline Shopping’

Ben Silbermann shared his thoughts at Shoptalk

Pinterest doesn't want to keep you scrolling constantly. Getty Images
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

Pinterest bills itself as a little island of inspiration on the internet—which, let’s face it, is not the most inspiring of places.

At a session during the Shoptalk retail conference in Las Vegas, Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann connected the social visual site’s mission and its close alignment with commerce. As we are inherently visual thinkers, matching up what people like—whether that’s aspirational exploration or tangible products—is one reason why the eight-year-old company recently filed an IPO with a $12 billion valuation.

Pinterest is centered on the individual

Pinterest’s raison d’être isn’t to show products or recommendations based off a consumer’s friends; instead, Silbermann said, the platform is centered on the consumer and what they like. Pinterest’s function as a commerce marketplace, then, is to guide you the best item—similar to a store associate in a department store.

“When you see something that catches your eye, we want you to be able to take action, and that could mean buying [something, or] cooking a recipe,” Silbermann said. “That simple vision, to me, mimics the best parts of offline shopping.”

Shopping isn’t “an expansion opportunity or new button,” Silbermann said. It’s baked into the company’s DNA. “We think of it as fulfilling where people already come to Pinterest to do,” he continued.

Understanding the nuance in user behavior is key

Silbermann teaches brands who want to advertise on the platform that shopping isn’t a “linear process.” Visitors may come to Pinterest with an open mind, no product in mind, ready for inspiration. And just like shopping in department stores or boutiques, it may take several different steps to get there.

“People often come in with an open-ended idea, and then, when they see something that inspires them to broaden their horizons, narrow down their taste,” Silbermann said. “And understanding that and meeting consumers where they are in that journey, I think, is really important.”

Bridging the gap between retail and Pinterest

According to Silbermann, the platform’s goal is to inspire and motivate its users to “buy products you really love,” not to keep you online, scrolling through other peoples’ lives. One way to do that is by serving up the right products from retailers to consumers in a striking, visual manner— like letting retailers upload entire catalogs, a feature announced on Monday.

“My vision is to have a place for that, and you can just touch the things that resonate with you visually and aesthetically, and that can present you with more options to refine that taste,” Silbermann said. “It’s an interactive process. It’s not like a robot.”

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@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.