Pinterest, the social photo-sharing website in the United States, generated more referral traffic in February than Twitter, according to Shareholic, a leading tool for online sharing that also monitors activity across numerous networking sites.
In the world of the Internet, traffic usually means business, but in the case of Pinterest, that hasn’t been the case.
Not so for a number of Chinese startups, who have essentially copied the Pinterest platform into sites that are not only generating traffic, they are bringing in the cash, too.
The basic idea of Pinterest is for users to collect and share interesting pictures with others on a visual pinboard. Since the launch of Pinterest in March 2010, the website has grown quickly in both active users and traffic. From August 2011 to January, monthly visits increased by 1,745 percent, according to Experian Hitwise, which measures website traffic by collecting data from Internet service provider networks.
Although Pinterest’s February tally of unique monthly visitors reached 11.7 million, it is still a profitless company. The website has been operating within the $37 million (28 million euros) of venture capital.
But for about 30 websites in China that are strikingly similar to Pinterest, photo sharing has become an easy means of pushing users to shop. Many of these, which have launched over the past six months, describe themselves as social e-commerce websites that borrowed the idea from Pinterest and modified it into a business model. One Chinese company has attracted 24 million unique monthly visitors and is well on its way to making a handsome profit.
Meilishuo.com, a social e-commerce website in Beijing, said it has generated a monthly profit of 7 million yuan ($1.1 million, 845,000 euros) for the past two months. Mogujie.com, another leading website in the social photo-sharing industry, said it has made about 4 million yuan every month since October, while Hers.com said it averaged about 500,000 yuan a month last year.
One major link to all these sites is Alimama.com, an online marketing league under Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce website.
How these sites such as Meilishuo.com differentiate themselves from Pinterest is that pictures of clothing, jewelry or any product are posted not only by users but also by middle- and small-sized retailers on Taobao. These retailers will give about a 6- to 10-percent cut of sales generated by referral links from sites like Meilishuo.com as commission.
Chen Qi, CEO of Mogujie, says this major difference between Pinterest and the Chinese sites is the ability to make a profit.
“On Pinterest, users tend to collect pictures they regard (as) interesting and beautiful, while Chinese users prefer to collect pictures of apparel and cosmetics they want to buy. It will naturally lead to online shopping,” Chen says.
The majority of social e-commerce users in China are women because, comparatively speaking, women are more willing to share interesting things, says Su Huiyan, an analyst with iResearch Consulting Group, a local Internet consultancy.
Data from iResearch shows that 84 percent of social e-commerce users are between the ages of 19 and 35 years old. More than 65 percent within this bracket have a monthly income of over 3,000 yuan and have both the desire and ability to shop online.