For its first 15 years, online shopping consisted mainly of typing words into search engines. Sellers would jockey for top position in the results, and buyers were at the mercy of search-ranking algorithms.
That text-driven model of e-commerce is slowly but surely beginning to change, giving way to a more visual form of shopping, in which people peruse high-resolution pictures of products favored by friends and online colleagues and click through to buy the item that sounds – and looks – the coolest.
The emergence of new shopping habits driven by pictures and social interactions provides an obvious if untapped revenue source for image-heavy online communities like Pinterest, most of whom have yet to nail down a business model. It has also driven online sellers to begin to spend less time optimizing text for search engines and more time tweaking images to please human shoppers.