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All hype, no payoff? Time to question the Pinterest for business model

pinterest for business questionsSince its launch, Pinterest has captured the Internet’s attention and given new life to the digital collection craze. It’s managed to catapult itself to a position alongside (or pulling away from) applications like Instagram and Tumblr, all within its incredibly short life. It also boasts shockingly positive sign up and time-on-page statistics.

And of course, where there are high user numbers and jaw-dropping activity rates, there are marketers.

Nearly as soon as Pinterest launched, brands began trying to figure out how to use this new platform, and many a startup has been created around the very idea of helping them do this with analytics, reports, and admin management tools. Along with a dumbfounding interest in DIY furniture ideas and a shocking amount of food porn, Pinterest has given birth to a mini-economy revolved around how to use it for marketing purposes.

The problem is, of course, that Pinterest in itself has a lot of problems. There’s the persisting spambot issue, the questions over copyright, and a host of other user-facing confusion that keeps us all just one step behind understanding how to work the platform’s system. And according to Zappos Labs, we may know even less than we thought.

Zappos Labs is a division of the online retailer that experiments with the world of online marketing and shopping, and has rightly been working on its Pinterest offense. The understanding has been that Pinterest leads to the most actual sales, but in an interview with Bloomberg, Zappos Labs Will Young said its findings proved otherwise:

“Zappos users were 13 times more likely to share a purchase on Pinterest than on Twitter and eight times more likely to share on Facebook than Twitter… Even so, posts on Twitter brought in the most revenue – an average of $33.66 an order – while Facebook posts garnered $2.08 per order and sales from Pinterest were 75 cents on average.”

The thing that can’t be ignored are Pinterest’s user numbers. According to comScore, over the last month the site’s unique visitors increased by 3 million, and this number has been climbing all summer. The site garners 1.7 billion monthly pageviews.

And if you look at these traffic charts comparing Pinterest to Twitter and Facebook, there are some interesting things happening.

alexa charts

One, it’s clear that Facebook dominates in general – to no one’s surprise. But Pinterest overtakes Twitter when it comes to pageviews per user and has been decreasing its bounce time percentage. Time on site is nearly even with Twitter, and perhaps most telling is that search engines have been very kind to Pinterest – which actually makes a lot of sense. Google has distanced itself from pulling Twitter content in search results, Facebook, as much as it might try, hasn’t solidly identified itself as a commerce or branding hub, and retail items are much-searched for thing. And to Pinterest, that traffic goes.

So the users are there, but marketers aren’t quite as Pinterest-happy as the general consensus seem to say they are. Last week a study from The Creative Group found that only seven percent of surveyed businesses were using Pinterest for business, and that 44 percent have no interest in the platform.

While there’s doubt, there’s still plenty of optimism. “We wanted to provide our customers different way to discover the breadth of Zappos products. Given out huge catalog, PinPointing helps customers discovery new categories and provides our customers a more personalized shopping experience as a fun alternative,” Zappos Lab’s Alice Han tells me via email. “We are keeping a close eye on a couple of metrics. The two that we are focusing on most are [the] increase of Zappos product pins on Pinterest and [the] increase in sales with an eye on conversion from our lesser known departments (such as Wedding, Couture, and Housewares) that may surface frequently on PinPointing.”

Maybe the only conclusion to be drawn here is that for all the hype about social shopping and e-commerce, there is no evidence to suggest anyone has found the recipe yet. You have users, eyeballs, time-on-site, and focus on brands — without any consistency of being able to translate that into dollars.