April 22, 2012

Dear Catalog CEOs: Pinterest

Dear Catalog CEOs:

Have you heard about Pinterest?  It's the latest application that "changes everything".

Go take a look at what Nordstrom does on Pinterest (click here).  Remember, Nordstrom has somewhere north of 8,000,000 customers in their database who purchased in the past twelve months.  With 15,000 followers on Pinterest, this means that 1 out of every 533 twelve-month buyers is paying attention.

Not bad.  Not enough to move the sales needle, either.  Have you ever noticed that few of the experts put things into these terms ... 1 in 533 twelve-month buyers?

That, of course, is what Nordstrom thinks about Nordstrom.

Here's what Patti Corley thinks about Nordstrom (click here).

Katie Koster's "My Style" section includes items from Nordstrom, Boden, J. Crew, Zara, Gap, and others.  She has 26 followers, by the way.

In the short period of time that Pinterest has been alive, it ascended to the 220th most visited website in the United States.  Let that one sink in for a moment.  Considering that Judy isn't going to spend a lot of time putting her preferences from Coldwater Creek up on Pinterest (593 followers), that's an amazing achievement ... nearly zero users a year ago, nearly 6,000,000 monthly visitors today.

Now, a lot of people are going to tell you about Pinterest Best Practices, sharing the best ways to leverage the application to sell merchandise ... advice like "make your merchandise shareable" or "lead the customer, merchandise outfits" or "offer discounts and promotions to encourage cross-channel, Pinterest-based commerce".  As if you didn't already know to merchandise outfits, right?

Be honest, folks ... how many people could possibly know what a best practice is for selling on a medium that essentially had zero visitors eighteen months ago?

There's going to be another camp of folks who tell you how the customer is now in control, they'll use Pinterest as an example of how today's savvy shopper re-purposes your content for her own needs.  They'll discuss concepts like "co-creation", and they'll suggest that your lumbering and boring website (and business) is "dead" unless you immediately embrace co-creation.

Here's what is nuts about our current situation.

The pundits are actually right.

And those with the exact opposite point of view are right.

Both sides have to be right ... Pinterest from nothing to the 220th most visited website in no time flat ... Nordstrom for having only 1 in 533 12-month buyers participating ... both sides of the story are right.

At a 30,000 foot level, content is diffusing from controlled websites to Google (algorithms) to Facebook/Twitter (mostly text) to YouTube (video) to Pinterest/Instagram (images) and a thousand varied micro-channels.  At a 30,000 foot level, the change is mind-numbing.

On the ground floor, where you are, almost none of this stuff generates sales (unless your business was started a few years ago with all of this stuff in mind).

You almost have to invest in the future.

And you almost have no chance of generating significant sales increases from all of this stuff.

Your investments have to come at the expense of something.

As time goes by, you'll be forced to trim circulation among your Jennifer/Jasmine audience, in order to fund experimentation, experimentation that has a low probability of success.  At the same time, businesses that don't have your overhead and legacy channels will mysteriously succeed while you experience minimal success doing the exact same thing they do.

I know, it's frustrating.  

But it is reality.  And the longer we stay tethered to our "multi-channel" past, a past that demands that everything we do be linked to the production of a catalog, the harder it becomes to make anything new work, because we keep attracting customers that are opposed to anything new.

P.S.  There's no forecasting what will work, or how it will work, so be careful when taking the advice of the so-called pundits.  I worked for an individual named Mike Smith, way back in 2001-2002 at Nordstrom.  This person created an application called "Life Sketch" ... which, if we must be honest, is not fundamentally different than Pinterest is ... it was just created a decade earlier and the public wasn't ready for it.  We're going to continue to be surprised by the applications that "take off", and there won't be a rhyme or reason for it.


  1. Kevin, I was going to write a long thought out response, but instead, I'll just say, "Exactly what he said". Well put sir.

  2. You said, "Your investments have to come at the expense of something." They always did, and they always will. When Wrigley started handing out his chewing gum for "free," he was giving away pennies. He reaped dollars.

    Kevin, you have produced a well-written thoughtful piece. How people really understand what you are talking about? Just asking. :)

  3. It's not easy to have a, say, $100,000,000 business ... and then try to invest in different areas at the expense of a "known". All of us on the outside can easily point to what needs to be done ... but when I was on the inside, working at Lands' End / Eddie Bauer / Nordstrom, well, it was much harder!


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