October 8, 2012 / IST / Social Media, Tech News.

Facebook has just begun testing “Collections” — a new feature it says is “unrelated” to Pinterest but could be a competitor. It allows retailers to add “Want” or “Collect” buttons to news feed posts about products. These save and share products to a “Wishlist” on user profiles that host a “Buy” button that can be clicked through to make purchases offsite.

Collections could help retailers score viral click throughs to their product pages by making things their fans are interested in more discoverable to friends. Facebook isn’t making affiliate fees on Collections click throughs, but it could get brands to buy ads to get more fans.

Facebook is currently testing few different versions of Collections, which has now rolled out to 100% of users. The seven partners – Pottery Barn, Wayfair, Victoria’s Secret, Michael Kors, Neiman Marcus, Smith Optics, and Fab.com — may see one of three designs for the button overlaid on a product’s photo that will add it to one of their Collections.

The “Want” button adds a product to a Timeline section called “Wishlist”,  while “Collect” and “Like” buttons will save items to a Collection called “Products”. Facebook is showing each version to a third of users, and will be watching to see which generates the most traction and satisfaction. Note that this is all different from the “Want” button social plugin for external sites that we think Facebook is working on.

Retailers aren’t charged to share Collections posts instead of standard photos or status updates, and Facebook will not collect affiliate fees or a revenue share on purchases from Collections click-throughs. Still, the feature could earn it money.

Collections posts only go to a Page’s fans. That means if Pages want more people Collecting, resharing, and clicking through to their purchase sites, they’ll need to be building a fan base. Facebook sells ads specifically designed to get brands more Likes for their Pages, and those ads might become a lot more valuable to retailers because of Collections. Notably, these Page Like ad units are a core part of Facebook’s mobile advertising offering.

Beyond earning money indirectly, Collections could also challenge Pinterest. If users can Collect and share products on Facebook where they and their friends already spend time, they might have less need to join Pinterest. Collections certainly isn’t robust enough to dissuade hardcore Pinners, but it could evolve to become sufficient for casual curators who don’t want to start a profile on another social network. This good-enough strategy is similar to how Facebook’s Subscribe feature limits the mainstream growth potential of Twitter.