Move over, Pinning. Here comes buying.
Pinterest, the digital scrapbooking service, is laying the groundwork for an e-commerce offering with a “Buy” button that could launch in as little as three to six months, according to multiple sources. One of the people cautioned Pinterest may wait longer to roll it out, while another said the shopping feature would likely start as a limited test.
The Buy button would allow Pinterest users to order and pay for some of the products they discover on Pinterest without leaving the company’s website or app, these people said. Currently, Pinterest’s 70 million monthly visitors use the service to save and share images of things like recipes, furniture, food and clothing. But since Pinterest burst onto the scene several years ago, industry observers, analysts and users have been waiting for the day that it would transform itself from a digital corkboard into a digital mall.
The company has focused its near-term strategy on advertising, introducing Promoted Pins in May with a handful of big brands, and also recently introduced an “Install” button that lets users download iPhone and iPad apps from within Pinterest. But a big part of what has excited some marketers about Pinterest is its potential to become a spectacular e-commerce platform. For example, it’s logical to assume people are signaling some interest — if not clear purchase intent — in a product when they Pin an image. By adding a Buy button, Pinterest is aiming to shrink the time between wanting something and buying it.
A spokeswoman for Pinterest* declined to comment on the company’s e-commerce strategy. Instead, the company responded: “Part of our strategy to help people discover new things, save them, and do these things in real life has always been to make Pins more useful.”
To handle the payments processing, Pinterest is close to an agreement with Stripe, a young payments company that has similar arrangements with Facebook and Twitter, according to industry sources. A Stripe spokeswoman declined to comment.
It’s not clear whether Pinterest’s advertising and commerce products will be integrated. But one could imagine a scenario in which retailers that incorporate Pinterest’s Buy button could also pay Pinterest to promote those images on the platform, similar to how some brands pay brick-and-mortar retailers to position their products more prominently than competitors’ in stores.
Pinterest’s e-commerce plans come as other social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter begin to experiment with their own Buy buttons. These tests, coupled with the rise of discovery-driven commerce apps such as Fancy, Wish and Wanelo, may have forced Pinterest’s hand in introducing a shopping function sooner than it had originally planned.
Despite coming late to the game, Pinterest has an advantage over Facebook and Twitter because its users are already coming to the site to find new products. Its user base is also larger than any of the startup apps mentioned above. The challenge will be managing its users’ expectations, as it probably won’t hold any inventory of the products being sold. That means Pinterest won’t control the shipping process, which could make the shopping experience uneven for users. Pinterest will be counting on the sellers to do a good job with order fulfillment, while users may still blame Pinterest if something goes wrong.
The company will also find itself competing against Amazon, which has dabbled with Pinterest-like layouts in the past, as well as eBay, which has unabashedly taken cues from Pinterest’s grid format in its new homepage design and its iPad app. Then there’s Google, which is contemplating adding Buy buttons to some of the ads it shows next to search results, according to a recent report.
As the field has become more crowded, this was a plunge Pinterest had to take. Not only to live up to its hype and valuation — currently $5 billion after raising more than $750 million — but because the opportunity is too big to pass up. Last year, eMarketer estimated that the global e-commerce market would surpass $1.7 trillion in sales in 2015.
* Pinterest executive Joanne Bradford is an independent board member of Re/code’s parent company Revere Digital and has no involvement in our editorial process.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.