Pinterest’s recent moves to build on its shopping business with a number of commerce-minded updates highlighted the platform’s opportunities and challenges, according to an analysis from Forrester.

Pinterest introduced Buyable Pin on the iOS app a year ago, allowing some items to be purchased directly through its site. The effort started with about two million products for sale and has grown fivefold, said Pinterest president Tim Kendall recently.

“Buy buttons” are part of what is often called social commerce, where users have an option to buy on a social networking platform. As Pinterest doesn’t consider itself to be “social media,” this capability is also called contextual commerce, which means a customer is able to buy when and where they see an item, whether that’s in an e-mail, on a blog — or on a platform like Pinterest.

Last week’s updates brought Pinterest’s 100 million users multi-item save-to-cart functionality on the Pinterest app and web site, including a saved shopping cart that followed a user across devices. It also added enhanced brand pages that allow retailers more organization on their Pinterest brand page, automatic object detection in iOS that lets users shop every item in an image and camera search technology in the near future that lets users use any photo (including one they take themselves) to search Pinterest’s image catalogue.

Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said these changes are a step in the right direction and that Pinterest has the potential to become a significant influencer of actual sales. However, she cautioned that merchants need to be smart and proactive in maximizing Pinterest’s e-commerce capabilities.

Mulpuru recommended that merchants be vocal about features that are critical to business, whether it’s concerns about Pinterest’s sales tax or a need for loyalty program integration. She also said merchants should look to Pinterest for data and trend identification — with the approximate 75 billion pins on Pinterest, the platform offers significant insight into what is resonating with shoppers.

She also encouraged merchants to continue their experiments with shopping features on platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Google — or at least observe the companies that have the resources to do so.

“We expect these changes to gradually improve social commerce and increase revenue from distributed commerce,” she wrote. “That said, merchants shouldn’t get overly excited about these new releases — at best, they will represent marginal increases to overall sales volume.”

While she was encouraged at the updates, she pointed out some challenges for shopping on Pinterest, including a relatively modest volume of Buyable Pins (compared to the amount of overall Pins on the platform). She also noted that product detail pages were often “sparse,” and that Pinterest hadn’t yet fully “closed the gap” between interest and sales. According to a recent study commissioned by, just 8 percent of retailers have reported that Pinterest is one of their top three customer acquisition sources.

Still, compared to other networks, Pinterest could be poised to become a more significant shopping tool — a point that Kendall emphasized when he pointed to research that showed 55 percent of people come to Pinterest to shop, compared with about 12 percent of users who turn to social networks to shop.

“One hundred percent of the time, people are looking for ideas — not for news or pictures of friends and family, but for ideas,” he said.

And with that, Mulpuru didn’t argue.

“These new enhancements will push Pinterest in the right direction,” she said, “toward substantial e-commerce sales over time.”