App Breakdown: Pinterest

Almost every big company has an app to go with their product, regardless of what that company actually does. From social media to retail to direct-to-consumer purchases, apps provide a lot of valuable information for consumers and the company alike: for consumers, they can act as a retail, information, and idea generation platform.

For companies, an app can connect your organisation directly to the people who like your products. Apps are also a goldmine of information: every act that is undertaken on an app can be turned into valuable insight on what your consumers want to see more of.

However, there’s one thing to keep in mind about apps, and it’s this: apps are as much affected by the changing times as any other kind of technology, and to give your consumers the best value, they need to be updated and kept in line with what’s going on in the rest of the tech world.

This probably seems obvious, but it’s one of the biggest reasons why apps fall out of popularity. Humans are innovative, curious creatures: we see something new, and we want to be able to properly play around with it – and with so many other companies ready to make adjustments to their existing product, it quickly becomes a game of making sure to do enough to keep your consumers’ attention on you.

That means updating your app.

For a lot of companies, sometimes this gets forgotten.

For Pinterest, updating their app brought a renewed interest in using the platform not just as an idea generation tool, but as a shopping experience.

Here’s what they did – and didn’t – do.


DID: Added new technology to enhance Pinterest’s existing features. 

Pinterest already had a healthy user-base for its app: although small, their audience is dedicated enough that they use Pinterest regularly. It helps that there’s no app that manages to have the same level of functionality and detail that Pinterest does, although similar bookmarking apps exist.

Adding a retail component to Pinterest’s already robust set of features helped create a secondary function: while it’s still a bookmarking and idea generation app, the retail component helps tap into the growing online shopping segment.

But online shopping alone wasn’t enough. Pinterest also added AR and VR filters to help their consumers see what the furniture or artwork they were thinking of buying looked like in their homes – and by teaming up with big-box retailers such as Wayfair, they minimised the steps a person needs to take between seeing something they like online and getting it delivered to their door.

People like convenience. When it comes to big ticket items that cost a significant amount, getting an idea and a feeling for how it looks in your home is fundamental – but so is having it easy to acquire. By removing two of the most difficult steps in online shopping, Pinterest widened its usability and created a better product for the consumers who use the app.


DIDN’T – Invent a completely new app from scratch

When a new technology or trend comes around, it’s tempting to just throw out what you’re working on and rebuild your entire app based around this new idea.

Don’t do that.

Pinterest is a smaller social media company, and while its users don’t number as highly as Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram, there’s a reason why the app is popular, and that has everything to do with how the app is built.

Apps that are designed for a particular company are designed that way for a reason, and people will get used to the way they look and function. Sometimes, it’s necessary to throw out those old ideas and get to cracking with newer ones, but that’s a pretty rare case, such as if the app itself hasn’t been updated since day one.

Pinterest took a lot of care to maintain its app and to keep the core of it the same. The addition of AR and VR filters didn’t take away from the way that the Pinterest app actually worked: it only added another, optional way of using it.


Why did this work for Pinterest?

It’s no secret that AR and VR filters are some of the most popular additions to any app: just think of Instagram, and the way it increases user engagement with a revolving array of VR and AR filters. Think of Tiktok and how one of its currently trending trends is using a filter to turn yourself into a cartoon character.

But AR and VR being popular isn’t enough of a good reason to add them to an app. You need something a little stronger than that, and Pinterest had a very strong reason to want VR and AR in their app: they wanted to improve their online shopping experience, which had, up until then, only been built around Pinterest storefronts.

Online shopping, however, is a double-edged sword. People shop online enough that they already have stores they’ll prefer or go to, usually with better bargains. By making sure users hve a reason to opt for shopping online through Pinterest, Pinterest is laying the groundwork to become a much stronger online shopping presence.

And, hey, it’ll take some time, but they’ll get there. The Pinterest app functions well enough even without the AR and VR improvements, and like we said before: there are some dedicated people out there who use Pinterest for everything. Once you have a loyal enough audience, it’s a case of making sure to keep their loyalty and that happens by retaining what they love about the app, and improving what they don’t.

That comes with experience. It comes with using the app yourself, not just as a developer, but also as a consumer.

And it comes with giving the app enough time to grow on its own. While it may have been developed with the intention of becoming one thing, apps have a way of growing outside their limitations.

Pinterest’s app did. Most likely, so will yours.

The key factor to remember is this: when it comes to making improvements, don’t try and fix so many things all at once that it completely removes what the original app is. Do make those improvements, add those new features, see where the new roads lead.

You’d be surprised at how often it takes an app to the next level.