A Pinterest Hypothesis.

Pinterest’s growth rate recently has been staggering, according to a recent post from Hitwise. And it’s referring a ton of traffic to retailers — even more than Google Plus and Twitter.

Anecdotally, last night, around the kitchen table during the Super Bowl, I caught “the women” (2 generations of them) talking about it and its allure.

But what is it about Pinterest that has made it so, er, interesting to people?

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.

It’s why some people tweet photos of their sneakers. Why some people snap pictures of their food. Acquiring what we want or desire is an achievement, and displaying that achievement is a trophy that sets us apart from others. We’ve become accustomed to this. Now you can do it without even buying it. It’s not the real thing, but it may be the next best thing. Especially in trying economic times. Our bank accounts may change, but our behaviors find a way to adapt.

Why do you think Pinterest has been growing so quickly?


  1. I agree. I also believe its a form of self-fulfillment and reaffirmation from your peers and strangers (when they “like,” “repin,” or “Follow” all your posts). Its a way to express your hypothetical personality or what you strive to be. Although I cant afford most everything I pin, everything on my christmas “wish list” came from Pinterest and even directed someone where they could buy it, which simplifies the process as well. Everything I received this past holiday season was from Pinterest….I was even surprised by some!

  2. Excellent post, really resonates with how I’ve seen it impact my family’s life as well (we’ve started “acquiring” new meals from pinterest).

    Most of our team at singly.com is also all really excited to integrate pins and taste stream with all of the other personal data and think even bigger, it’s going to be a great year for creative sharing!

  3. [...] 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 [...]

  4. I had an experience similar to Ian’s on Super Bowl Sunday except “the women” in my family were THREE generations huddled around an iPad checking out Pinterest during the game. I think Ian’s on to something regarding “half-shopping.” It’s similar to “real” shopping experiences that my Mom, Aunts, and Grandmother had years ago when I was a kid. Note that “shopping” is not “buying.”

    I wrote some more thoughts about Pinterest, “half-shopping”, “virtual retail therapy”, and “digital self-actualization” on my tumblr. Check it out if you are interested.

  5. Yes. In fact, I remember reading back in 2007/08 when virtual gifts were all the rage that the brain reads winning a virtual $100 bill the same way it reads winning a real one. Our brain doesn’t know the difference. Perhaps virtual purchases work the same way.

  6. Yes. In fact, I remember reading back in 2008, when virtual gifts were all the rage, that the brain reads winning a virtual $100 bill with the same excitement it reads winning a real $100 bill. Perhaps virtual ‘purchases’ play the same mind game.

  7. The half-shopping hypothesis is intriguing, but it’s undercut by the fact that it’s the new leading source of referral traffic to retailers. So maybe it’s halfway down the slippery slope of the purchase funnel — and a lot of people keep sliding down!

    Also, it’s dead easy to use, the image sizes are big enough to appreciate (jux.com images are bigger, but they were actually too big — until they introduced a new centering tool it was hard to see the right portion of the photo), and yes, everything else that people have mentioned above.

  8. Found you through a friend Katie Pinke of Pinke Post’s repost on FB. I think your hypothesis about Pinterest is solid, however incomplete.

    Window shopping is certainly a large part of the allure of Pinterest. But it’s more complicated than that. The reasons and applications for pinning are as endless as the millions of people who pin. Plus it’s highly intuitive and easy to participate. No secret language or techie speak. Just pretty pictures and lots of them.

    Friday I blogged about why I like Pinterest. Here’s the link if you’re interested: http://everydayepistle.com/2012/02/17/neat-as-a-pinterest/

  9. referring to my Slideshare from April 30, 2012
    The Pinterest Myth by Augustine Fou and Tugce Esener

    “I (used to) love Pinterest too. It worked great in the past when genuine curators carefully picked out beautiful items and posted their pictures. This gave inspiration and also helped me narrow down my choices so I can more easily make a purchase decision. For example, an interior designer I like posting 2 sofa’s to choose from makes it easier for someone to choose one and buy it than if they had to wade through several dozen from a Pottery Barn catalog.

    Now with the Pinterest gold-rush everyone is posting everything on Pinterest, and without any context or curation. So what was so valuable and useful about Pinterest (when it was small and pure) is completely drowned out by junk — i.e. the user now has to pick through several dozen sofas without any context. And this is why Pinterest is no longer more valuable than just a Google Image search — in fact, it is arguably less valuable because every user that clicks to Pinterest.com is one user less to the brand’s own website and one for whom you have no detailed analytics.

    Some users, however, like @wholefoods and @etsy ARE using Pinterest well and to their great advantage. Imitate these great ones and do something special on Pinterest; don’t just rush into it.

    There is value in Pinterest (for brands), but only if you create it carefully and with forethought.”