February 8, 2017, 2:39 PM

Pinterest bets visual search can drive shoppers from inspiration to purchase

Pinterest today rolls out three products, including ’Shop the Look’, which lets a consumer tap a blue circle on a product pin to get recommendations for similar items she can buy on Pinterest or from a brand.

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Pinterest Inc. wants to bridge the gap from inspiring consumers’ future purchases to driving them to make a purchase by rethinking the way consumers search for products on the web.

The social network today rolled out “Shop the Look,” a tool that enables Pinterest users to identify, shop and buy products within fashion and home pins, as well as two other visual search tools.

Shop the Look lets consumers learn more about the products that appear within a pin by tapping a blue circle on an element within a pin to pull up recommendations for similar items she can buy on Pinterest or from a brand. For instance, if a pin features a model wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, she can click on the jeans or the T-shirt for recommendations.

The social network says the recommendations combine computer vision technology with human curation. The social network is working with vendors such as Curalate, Olapic, Project September, Refinery29 and ShopStyle to enable its users to shop from brands and retailers like CB2, Macy’s Inc., No. 6 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide; Target Corp. (No. 22); Neiman Marcus (No. 36); and Wayfair Inc. (No. 24).

Another new product is “Pinterest Lens,” which lets a consumer use his mobile camera to search for products. For instance, a Pinterest user can point Lens at a pair of shoes and tap to see related styles or he can point it at a dining room table to find similar designs or other furniture from the same era.

“Traditional search engines are good when someone knows exactly what they’re looking for,” Evan Sharp, Pinterest’s co-founder and head of product, writes in a blog post. “But if they aren’t quite sure what it’s called, finding it can be tough. Sometimes people spot things out in the world that look interesting—a pair of shoes someone’s wearing, a friend’s dining table—but when they try to search for them online, words fail them. They know what it looks like, but they can’t translate that visual into the words they need to find it. With Pinterest Lens (currently in beta), for the first time ever it’s possible to understand what someone sees, and turn it into a search. Now people can discover ideas without having to find the right words to describe them first.”

Pinterest says the tool, which it is still testing, works best within home decor and apparel, but as more people use it, its results will improve making the range of objects Lens recognizes “increasingly wider.”

The other new product launched is “Instant Ideas.” The tool enables a user to tap a circle in the bottom right corner of a pin in her home feed to personalize her feed with pins relevant to that particular post. For instance, if she taps a pin featuring a bathroom faucet, Pinterest will bring up other pins featuring other bathroom fixtures.

“Now there are even more ways for people to find products they love—including things they didn’t even know about before,” Tim Kendall, Pinterest president, writes in a blog post. “No need to type in a search or even know what the product is called to find it—people can just let their eyes and tastes guide them. As people have more and more ways to discover ideas, it’s even easier for them to find the ideas they want to see from businesses like yours.”

Today’s product release comes a week after Pinterest began enabling retailers and other advertisers to present consumers searching on its platform with search ads. The social network has been candid—in interviews with Internet Retailer and others—that it sees opportunity in Google’s declining influence in product-related searches. A recent Internet Retailer consumer survey featured in the cover story of Internet Retailer’s February issue found that 52.4% of consumers start their product searches on Amazon (No. 1 in the Top 500), while only 38.8% turn to Google, according to an Internet Retailer survey conducted in December. That’s a marked shift from even a year earlier, when a Bloomreach Inc. survey found that 44% of shoppers started their searches on Amazon and 34% turned to search engines. 

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