1 November 2012
Pinterest has been one of the biggest web success stories of past year. Its growing influence on fashion and product oriented websites is now extending into e-commerce. A growing number of e-tailers from eBay to mom-and-pop operations are adopting the grid-like look. GigaOm founder Om Malik writes about the site's growing visual and behavioral influence.
One of my favorite stores is Richmond, Virginia-based clothing and fashion accessories seller, Need Supply Co. In the past when I visited their website, I had to click through a whole bunch of links to get a better sense of what was being offered. It wasn't easy and it was time consuming.
So a few days ago when I ended up on their website, I was pleasantly surprised. Gone was the old fashioned way of navigating. Instead, the site offered a highly visual, grid-like layout that reminded me of, well, Pinterest. Need Supply Co isn't the first site that is taking a cue from Pinterest's design -- several larger retailers are being influenced by the grid-style design philosophy.
In addition to Pinterest, I am also seeing fashion oriented e-commerce sites take a cue from Tumblr as well. Examples of Tumblr inspired e-commerce sites include Of a Kind and Le Coq Sportiff. Tumblr and Pinterest have become the Glimmer Twins of the fashion content platforms and are major sources of attention for brands and products.
A new kind of grid
David Galbraith, an architect and serial entrepreneur who started Wists, a precursor to Pinterest, says that the 'UI universe has boiled down to grids and feeds and slideshows, as far as I can see.' And we are likely to be married to those formats for a while, especially as digital information continues to grow exponentially.
He argues that text will be primarily a feed -- a theory that was popularized by blogs. Pictures will be in grids while videos and presentations are going to take cue from the slideshows. Today, focusing data into packages that are simply understood by humans is going to be a key challenge of the next generation of the Internet.
Grid design has been around since the early days of the modern web. There was OMG from Yahoo! that came to life in 2007. Tumblr had its wonderful archives. Why, even MSN had Wonderwall. And there was NotCot. But Pinterest and its explosive growth has made grid-based designs more accessible to many more people. Many of Pinterest's users also tend to be those with active interest in fashion, design and products. As a result, these people can influence the purchasing decisions.
Today, e-commerce companies are optimising their websites to benefit from 'pinning' and 'tumbling' which means they are taking their design cues from Pinterest itself and are starting to resemble the traffic generating engine. Recently I came across this comment by Leland Rechis, a director of product experience at Etsy:
'Browsing in e-commerce is a more difficult problem than search. Amazon and Google pretty much stink at browsing.'
A report from Shareaholic identified Pinterest as driving more referral traffic than social services Google+ and LinkedIn. Pinterest started 2012 at about 0.85 percent of traffic visits on the web and at the end of August 2012 was at 1.84 percent of all visits. And if there was any doubt about the pinterest-ization of e-commerce, then look no further than eBay, the grandma of all commerce sites, which recently announced a grid-influenced home page. eBay Chief Technology Officer Mark Carges told AdAge that the design (aka The Feed) was a way 'to combine the ease of online purchasing with the fun of window shopping.'
Sahil Lavingia, who worked at Pinterest before starting his own company (Gumroad) is of the opinion that the success of Pinterest is leading people to copy the Pinterest's design mostly because now people understand how visual grids work. But he cautions that to copy it outright is a bad idea for retailers. Why? Because while grid design is good for quick discovery of goods, it is still important to make the buyer take the final step: shop.
Om Malik is the founder and senior writer for GigaOm. This topic and a whole lot of other design questions will be part of the conversation at GigaOm's RoadMap conference on Monday in San Francisco. Our North American editorial director Nick Parish will be in attendance, and our friends at GigaOm have offered our readers a discount, should you wish to attend.