How eBay Is Leveraging Pinterest to Stay Relevant

For eBay (EBAY) , it's all about the re-pins these days. The e-commerce company is realizing just how big of an opportunity social media represents for online retail, and as a result is ramping up its social game, especially on Pinterest.

"We think social is a huge opportunity," Brad Matthews, Senior Director of Social Commerce & CRM at eBay, said at a panel at Ad:tech NYC on Wednesday. "There are no other marketing channels where you can simultaneously inspire potential new customers to engage with your existing user base at a point in time where they're almost certainly not thinking about your brand and when you do it right you can actually drive meaningful conversations, meaningful sales, and do it at a very ROI positive rate."

Matthews proceeded to single out Pinterest as one of the strongest channels for eBay. He said it was the fastest-growing channel for eBay in terms of driving traffic and sales.

eBay has been struggling to keep up with the growth in the e-commerce industry, with same-store sales growing much more slowly compared to the 15% e-commerce average, according to comScore. In September, eBay's same store sales grew only 1.1% year-over-year, according to ChannelAdvisor. Amazon (AMZN) , by comparison, saw its same store sales grow 19.2% year-over-year.

In its most recent quarter, eBay reported revenue of $2.1 billion,down 2% year-over-year. Amazon, meanwhile, reported revenue of $25.4 billion, up 23% year-over-year.

After spinning off PayPal and its enterprise business, eBay is now focusing on its core marketplace and trying to revive its growth. Social commerce is one of the ways that the company is attempting to do that.

"[Users] are coming to Pinterest because they're searching for inspiration, and they're searching for inspiration that oftentimes results in a shopping journey, so the intent to purchase is very high," he said.

Matthews pointed to one specific pin that did extremely well for eBay. Designer and author Justina Blakeney, who has been working with eBay for a couple of years, wrote a post called 8 Ways to Fill Your Home With Positive Energy and pinned it on Pinterest. eBay also pinned the post to their Pinterest page and promoted the pin. That post has since garnered 70,000 re-pins and more than 300,000 clicks back to eBay.

To replicate that success, eBay comes up with 50 hand-curated pins like Blakeney's every week, and tests them to better home in on the right Pinterest tone.

Pinterest, and social channels overall, are increasingly important to all retailers, and eBay has recognized that power.

During the third quarter earnings call, eBay CEO Devin Wenig brought up the company's social efforts as a way to drive traffic and user acquisition, explaining that eBay's social strategy demonstrates a "move from selling individual items to selling eBay as a brand." 

"We continue to expand our use of social channels, and traffic from these channels saw significant growth in Q3," he said. "We're now consistently leveraging 10 unique social channels on a regular basis."

In a study of 1,500 U.S. consumers, Citi Retail Services found that 60% of respondents would be open to making purchases through social media.

"Social is the frontier of e-commerce," said Wedbush analyst Gil Luria. "It's been an untapped potential for a long time, and the introduction of the 'buy button' has really opened up a lot of avenues in terms of social becoming an important e-commerce channel."

While Luria admitted that it's still very much early stages, he said that eBay is set up to really benefit from social channels down the line.

"eBay has more merchandise than anybody else, so they're in a very good position if they work well with the various social media outlets to display their merchandise and their reach," he said. "They're going to have to line up well with those social media platforms, but it's a big potential for e-commerce in general and specifically for eBay because they have so much merchandise." 

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