Offline, retailers have long realized the importance of retail theater, creating environments that entice shoppers to discover, discuss and share products with friends.

However, until recently, consumers looking to get that retail therapy fix online were faced with a bargain-bin style model, where purchase options were based on price and convenience alone.

In recent months it’s been fascinating to watch this trend spread across the industry, as new services are snapped up by curious shoppers seeking a retail channel that can surprise and entertain too.

Driving this change are a range of discovery shopping sites, which allow consumers to curate their own shopping collections by pinning, posting and sharing product preferences with a virtual arena of fellow shoppers, often through their mobile or tablet devices.

Understandably, these sites are also shifting the way retailers make their stocking decisions. For the first time, shop owners can see exactly what shoppers would like to buy and stock accordingly.

A great discovery

A digital pin board might sound likely an unlikely place for a new era of shopping to begin but photography and video pinning site Pinterest was one of the first sites to contribute to this phenomenon.

While many of Pinterest’s users started sharing photos of cute animals, holiday pictures or inspirational quotes, it wasn’t long before people began pinning pictures of products that they liked as well – from cars to coffee tables.

Pinterest is now visited by more than 20m people each month and has been the catalyst for a new generation of shopping sites, such as Fancy, Pinshoppr and Etsy.

Aside from helping shoppers to discover interesting and unique products from across the world, these sites entertain; they offer users a fun, social experience and the opportunity to connect with people who have shared interests. 

Savvy retailers have already recognized the opportunity that this trend presents and are actively encouraging shoppers to share their products elsewhere on the web.

Aside from providing a new platform to showcase goods and drive traffic to online stores, the emergence of these sites provides retailers with money-can’t-buy insight into what’s hot and what’s not.

Removing the guesswork

This trend is being fuelled further by the rise of crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which provide manufacturers with an opportunity to crowdsource opinion on new products and gain funding to take them to market if enough interest exists.

Retailers themselves are also adopting a similar approach. Sites like and The Grommet are offering consumers the opportunity to purchase products that are pre-production, new to market or limited edition.

As well as supporting product developers and designers testing new products, these sites allow savvy retailers to avoid a warehouse full of unwanted goods.

Responding to demand

It’s an empowering time for online retailers. Thanks to sites like Pinterest and Curisma, retailers know more about what their consumers are demanding than ever before.

It’s no longer the case that the biggest brands with the cheapest goods online will attract the most consumer attention.

Now, rather than eating into margins with unsustainable prices or loss leading products, small merchants can use shopping discovery sites to ride the wave of emerging retail trends and make smarter, more popular, stocking decisions.