Half-shopping

By Eric Cahan

Yesterday my Prismatic feed, which has somehow transmuted my Twitter account data into an unbelievably compelling news source, led me to a post by Ian Schafer on Pinterest, via a tweet by Arpan Podduturi. I think 60% of the stories in my feed lately are about Pinterest, so that wasn’t a surprise, but this one got right to the point:

Here’s one hypothesis: Pinterest is half-shopping.

It’s the next best thing to accumulating items, but without the cost associated with actually buying them. It’s a locker where you store the things you want, the things you find interesting, the things you want people to know you’ve found — each of which is a major psychological driver in the process of retail therapy, without the cash (or credit) expenditure.

A recent Atlantic story, Can Pinterest and Svpply Help You Reduce Your Consumption?, makes a similar point:

Just as Megan Garber explained the endorphin hit we can get from adding a great story to our Instapaper queue, I have found that adding items to my Svpply page gives me a similarly pleasant rush of some pleasure-inducing chemicals. When I spot something online that I think has nice design, might be worth buying later or would make a good gift, I’ll happily click the Buy Later button in my browser to add it to my Svpply page. Once it is there, I am able to revisit the product later and decide if it is really something I want to buy. I have often removed something later that, in an earlier time, I may have actually bought, not realizing I didn’t actually like the design as much as I had thought or simply that I didn’t need it.

My first reaction: active pinners may indeed be “half-shopping,” and there’s some truth to the notion that curating images of things you think are cool can be almost as satisfying as owning them, but shopping is definitely happening in the midst of this activity—ask the people behind any retail or ecommerce site on the receiving end of Pinterest traffic.

I think Pinterest is actually pitching in to support an important shopping behavior that retail and ecommerce sites have historically been lacking in—the ability to collect and stash away items under consideration in a pleasurable way. And this is because ecommerce has historically been optimized for the kinds of items you don’t necessarily want to bask in—cameras, books, computers, electronics and known, branded items. Items you research before you buy, and items you search for on Amazon after you’ve decided you’re interested in buying them.

Step into the world of softer, “unknown items,” where you don’t really know what you want and are looking to be inspired—as with clothing, jewelry, artwork, furniture, housewares, vintage things, cool things that are fun to look at—and collecting and gaining validation for your discoveries becomes really important. This has always been the case, but is just beginning to be supported well online. These categories have traditionally been thought of as more female than the “ecommerce 1.0” categories—cue stats about the gender makeup of the Etsy and Pinterest user bases—but they’re also increasingly urban male (see Svpply and Fancy).

You could even say “half-shopping” is the future of commerce on the web.