Pinterest , the social media Cinderella story of 2012 , is fast positioning itself as a major tool for e-commerce. Along with the site’s growing user base, other businesses have seized the opportunity to build on top of the platform.
How revolutionary is Pinterest? Sharad Verma, CEO and co-founder of Pinterest analytics firm Pinfluencer , considers it one of the most transformational forces to impact the e-commerce space in recent years.
“Pinterest is really about product collection. It's really about product curation. It's less about conversation and news, unlike Facebook and Twitter,” he says.
In fact, Pinterest is part of a much larger trend toward what Verma refers to as “the visual web.”
“We think that Pinterest is the Google of the visual web. The visual web is really about consumers interacting with images and brands interacting with customers via images. The web is becoming more like entertainment and TV,” he says.
Similar to Twitter, the wealth of user activity on Pinterest is spawning a growing pool of analytics tools and software for brands and marketers. Pinfluencer, which tracks user behavior on Pinterest and helps run promotions for brands on the site, has emerged as an early leader in the space.
“Until a solution like Pinfluencer came to the market, marketers had no way of identifying, ‘Which of my images are actually going popular? Who are these people coming to my site and pinning hundreds of products?’ Our tool gives identity to their website traffic that is engaged with their catalog,” Verma says.
The engagement and analytics that Pinfluencer provides to its clients has won many converts, and now the firm has announced a deal with Zappos, one of the biggest online retailers, which has been experimenting with Pinterest  for some time now.
"We got introduced to Zappos through mutual investors around last year. Zappos used our product for a good three months and tested every aspect of it,” Verma says. “Analytics is hard. And pulling that much data down from a platform that doesn't have APIs and producing accurate analytics day after day is not easy."
Besides the market validation the high-profile deal provides, Pinfluencer also aims to leverage its relationship with Zappos to innovate and develop new features.
“It's a great partnership. Pinfluencer will have the opportunity to experiment [with] new products with Zappos. That's something they're really excited about," Verma says.
“Pinfluencer creates a web-based platform for us at Zappos to easily track online performance of our boards on Pinterest,” said Graham Kahr, social scientist at Zappos, in an official press release  announcing the deal. “Through Pinfluencer, we have been able to boost audience engagement, site traffic and virality, which results in increased earned media conversations and sales for our company. We now have a way to actually measure the ROI of our Pinterest initiatives. This is huge for us as a company and for the industry.”
As evidence of Pinterest’s purchasing power, Pinfluencer compiled data from 50 customers between November 2012 and January 2013. According to the company’s research, Pinterest increased traffic and revenue both on a per pin and per day basis. Visits per pin went from 0.63 to 2.38, while revenue per pin went from $0.14 to $0.20,.
While Pinfluencer has built an impressive platform and client roster, which includes Orbitz and Martha Stewart Living in addition to its newest client Zappos, the truth is that the company’s existence relies on another company’s product, which can make for uncertain ground.
Pinfluencer does not have a formal partnership with Pinterest, though Verma says “they’re aware” of Pinfluencer.
“I think we have a very symbiotic role to play,” he says. “We're helping Pinterest gain brand awareness among the customers of brands. So when Sephora runs a promotion with us, they would send e-mail to their 5 million customers about their Pinterest promotion. I'm sure a majority of them don't even know about Pinterest, because Pinterest is still very new.”
The value for users of Pinterest is obvious, but as Twitter taught us, it’s not uncommon for a social network to turn off the tap on third parties at a later date once it can offer first-party equivalents.
But this is the life of a web-based startup. Change is inevitable. And for now, Pinterest is where Verma sees the most opportunity in e-commerce.
“I think Pinterest has a much bigger opportunity [than Twitter and Facebook]. [Pinterest has] so much time on site, so much engagement and there’s so much intent,” Verma says. “It’s really about clicks and not about conversation.”