The Pinterest revolution on photos, recipes and tutorials

Pinterest has over 100 million users. Now its mission is to understand where to grow next.

Jeff Chiu/AP/File
A pin signifies Pinterest's Japan offices on a map at the Pinterest office in San Francisco (April 1, 2015 photo).

Pinterest has over 100 million users who use the visual platform to save and share photos, recipes and how-to tutorials, and who peruse the stream of images to shop. The image-bookmarking app aims to revolutionize how people discover products and content, as well as how they buy stuff.

"We can do for discovery what Google did for search — most discovery still happens offline," said Pinterest President Tim Kendall. "Pinterest is a handcrafted catalog of ideas to browse and look at. We're trying to make it easy to do what you do offline all the time. You browse a department store, walk down Main Street. You may not know what you're looking for. And some of the best things are things you're not looking for."

"With Pinterest, that can happen," he added.

Pinterest users can shop with "buyable pins" — the platform now has more than 50 million pinned items for sale. Users tap twice, input their credit card, and have an item delivered to their doorstep without swiping away from the platform.

Kendall insists that Pinterest doesn't intend to displace traditional retail, but rather sees the platform as additive to the 90 percent of shopping that is still done offline. In fact, while Pinterest allows merchants to sell products on its platform, it doesn't take a cut of those retail sales, but rather relies entirely on advertising revenue. Brands pay for "promoted pins" to feature their brand or products, and Pinterest eventually plans to allow companies to pay to promote buyable pins.

"If a merchant's getting a lot of value from buyable pins today, it would make sense if a certain retailer wanted more value, we could provide an ad solution around that," said Kendall. But he insists the company doesn't want to take a cut of retail sales. "The idea of taxing everything on our platform, that's not going to happen."

There should we be plenty of room for Pinterest to grow; Kleiner Perkins released a study last week showing that the majority of Pinterest users use the service to shop. "Fifty-five percent are here to shop for products, 12 percent of Facebook and Instagram users said they were there to shop for products," said Kendall. "If you want to market products and services to users, you'd better be on Pinterest."

The company is very interested in showing retailers how ads on its platform can directly impact sales, not just online, but in stores. Earlier this week Pinterest announced it is partnering with Oracle Data Cloud to measure the return on investment for ad campaigns for 29 consumer packaged goods companies. The study found that promoted pins drive five times incremental sales per impression compared with campaigns on other social media platforms and other digital ads.

Now Pinterest is trying to figure out where to grow next. It's experimenting with physical Pin-It buttons in stores, which send a signal to users' phones and adds an item to a collection on Pinterest. "That bridge between in-store and Pinterest is really interesting," said Kendall. "Retailers are trying to figure out the link between what's online and in-store, and there are more exciting things for us to build off of." The company is also experimenting with ways to expand beyond traditional text search, allowing consumers to do visual search with images.

This article first appeared at CNBC.

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