Through the retail lens: Social marketing and retail

Pinterest’s Jeremy King talks about COVID-19’s impact on social media marketing and retail

Pinterest has been a clear winner as more shoppers have more time on their hands. The site has more than 367 million global monthly active users and engagement with shoppable Product Pins increased 44 percent year-over-year.

Jeremy King, senior vice president of technology for Pinterest, joined the company in 2019. Formerly the chief technical officer for Walmart and leader of Walmart Labs, King also has experience at LiveOps and eBay. At Pinterest, he drives innovation in the social site’s visual discovery engine. He spoke to NRF about COVID-19’s impact on social media marketing and retail.

What are some of the biggest shifts you see in consumer sentiment and lifestyle based on searches and how does that impact social media marketing?

Over the past few months, searches have increased 60 percent year over year. In this time, we’ve also seen increases in searches for trends like work-from-home setup, gifts and supporting small businesses.

We’re seeing surges in categories where we have historically thrived, including food, home and DIY. Pinterest searches tell us that people are creating joy in their home — for example, searches for “deck renovation ideas” are up 97 percent and “backyard renovation ideas” are up 98 percent. Pinners are being both conservative with meal planning and grocery shopping, but also finding pleasure in trying new recipes to use those ingredients, especially if they find themselves with more time on their hands. For example, searches for “homemade fettuccine noodles” are up 471 percent and “Ohana noodle recipe” are up 394 percent.

People have always used Pinterest to shop and plan for the future (holidays, renovations, meals), which has provided unique insights to retailers through our Trends tool and their own analytics. Using these insights, retailers are increasingly reaching Pinners interested in areas like working out from home, beauty and home renovation.

For example, REI developed an ad on Pinterest, “How to Spend Time Outside While Social Distancing,” and Bed Bath & Beyond offered tips to “Build Your Best Work-From-Home Space.”

Recent Pinterest research showed that retailers need to be planning now for recovery. What does that look like and how might social influence be different?

When the pandemic first hit and isolation began, most people needed immediate help. Searches like “pantry recipes” and “how to entertain bored kids” spiked. But then, surprisingly quickly, people are getting back to future optimism. They’ve returned to searches about travel, event planning, summer, weddings and more. Consumers are ahead of advertisers right now.

People are getting back to future optimism. Consumers are ahead of advertisers right now.

Within our product, we saw that people are planning for the future by creating boards. Last month, for instance, there was a 60 percent increase in the number of boards created compared with last year, and engagement with boards is up nearly 75 percent year over year. In response to this, we used our machine learning technology to make planning with boards easier by auto-organizing Pins and placing them into suggested sections.

While consumers look forward, messaging from brands should follow (and not look back). It’s an opportunity for retailers to shift messages from support to inspiration and give people something to look forward to tomorrow, like future travel (searches for “travel ideas” and “travel destinations” are starting to climb back up).

As ecommerce is becoming more important than ever and consumers shift their spending to online, retailers should inspire Pinners and create a shopping experience that feels more like real life, bringing a sense of normalcy and joy. Brands are navigating how to inspire shoppers by creating highly visual digital shopping experiences — especially for physical stores that are not yet open.

What aspects of social media will forever change as a result of the pandemic and how should retailers be ready to respond?

Pinterest is in a unique position because it’s not social media — it’s a visual discovery platform people use for their own planning and inspiration, and not to connect with friends. Especially more recently, Pinterest has served as a place for people to escape news, politics and the negativity that can be found in so many places online. Pinterest is a positive corner of the internet, where people find inspiration to create a life they love. With that motivation comes commercial intent and a viewpoint of ads as being additive, as they can assist in the planning of a new home, outfit or project.

Retailers should focus on building the most trustworthy brand they can. As consumer confidence will go through some bumps, shoppers will rely on product availability and trust with retailers as they research products before curbside pickup, or look for quality exchange policies. Our response here is the Verified Merchant Program, which will identify trustworthy retailers on Pinterest with a blue checkmark, who will also become eligible for increased distribution and metrics like conversion reporting.

There will also be greater opportunities for visual search, computer vision and augmented reality as people will want to virtually sample and browse the aisles of their favorite stores, and envision how products could fit in their life. And, as the definition of what’s essential changes, we’ll be focused on providing recommendations to Pinners so they can find the products that work best for their taste, style and price points.

Additionally, the surge in interest in supporting small businesses and independent retailers means we’ll be launching more products to make our tools accessible and impactful, while providing a democratized platform where any business can be discovered (97 percent of top searches on Pinterest are unbranded, meaning people aren’t looking for specific brand names, they’re wanting to explore).

Related content

Coronavirus Resources for Retailers
Resources and information for retailers on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read more
Economy Has ‘Strong Momentum’ Despite Challenges
Issues have shifted from COVID-19 to inflation and the war in Ukraine, but the economy continues to face uncertainties.
Read more
Inflation Isn’t Hitting Everyone the Same
Inflation is at a 40-year high but isn’t hitting all consumers the same, NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz says.
Read more