Experts disagree on whether social networks’ Buy buttons will produce significant returns this holiday season.

Multichannel retailer Gardeners Supply Co. this month will become one of the first retailers to try Pinterest’s “buyable” pins that enable consumers to purchase products directly within a pin on the social network’s mobile app. Even so, Max Harris, the retailer’s vice president of e-commerce, isn’t counting on the social network to account for a lot of sales this holiday season.

“It’s hard to scope out the scale of the opportunity,” he says. “But I do know that for our brand, with our product assortment, we have a passionate customer base that is vigorously pinning our products on Pinterest every day. There’s a natural brand affinity between Pinterest and Gardener’s Supply, so it’s a no-brainer to give consumers the ability to buy Pinterest, even if the scale is limited. That maps with our general philosophy: We have to meet our customer wherever she is to make it convenient for her to buy.”

Gardeners Supply is a customer of e-commerce software vendor Demandware Inc., which is one of two vendors whose clients are able to use buyable pins. (Shopify is the other vendor whose clients are testing the button; Pinterest plans to enable other retailers to use buyable pins in the near future). Gardeners Supply hopes that being among the first merchants to sell directly to consumers on Pinterest will give it a first-mover advantage. “We’ll have the opportunity to test and learn how it works,” Harris says. “As Pinterest expands the buyable pin footprint and its users get more familiar get more familiar with making purchases on the platform, we’ll have a good idea of how to take advantage of the opportunity.”

But for now most retailers aren’t likely to see many sales via Pinterest or other social networks that have rolled out or are testing Buy buttons or related initiatives, says Sucharita Mulpuru, Forrester Research Inc. vice president, principal analyst. Among those platforms are Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“These are all experiments,” she says. “Nobody is sharing any data. The playbook hasn’t been written and probably won’t be written for a while.”


While shoppers may start to get used to seeing Buy buttons on social platforms this holiday season, most won’t click and buy from them yet, she says. And before shoppers grow accustomed to clicking and buying from a Buy button, the buttons will have to be available to more retailers.

“The idea of product discovery and purchase on Pinterest is attractive,” Mulpuru says. “Pinterest already inspires consumers to buy. But if only one out of every 50 items I see is buyable, and that one item is a random item I’m uninterested in, it won’t lead to much traction. Pinterest needs to make nearly every item on every picture buyable because who knows what I’ll want?”

Even though it is early for buyable pins and other Buy button initiatives, Omar Akhtar, managing editor for business research and advisory firm Altimeter Group, says shoppers are ready for them.  

“Pinterest and Instagram are geared to inspiring consumers,” he says. “It just makes sense to marry shopping and those platforms. The sense of product discovery is exciting. It’s close to the feeling when you go into a store and find things you didn’t know you wanted. They’re already optimized for commerce so if they can eliminate friction and make it easy to buy, shoppers will buy.”


Pinterest seeks to do just that. Once a shopper clicks a Buy button, selects her size and color, she can pay with Apple Pay or a credit card. The consumer only needs to enter her personal information once because Pinterest will store it so she doesn’t have to re-enter it for future purchases.