July 20th, 2017

Amazon have launched Amazon Spark to their US based customers, a quasi social network come e-commerce platform that looks to capitalise on the potential of social commerce and the ‘walled gardens’ that are pursued by the big social platforms. Initial reports are of an Instagram style feed with the added functionality of tagging specific products and inventory checks direct from Amazon. The theory being that users can browse Amazon Spark, comment, like and crucially buy almost directly from the feed. Amazon are tackling social commerce in the reverse order of the established players like Facebook and Instagram.

Is it a social network?

Sort of. There is a feed, you can like (via a ‘smile’) and comment and there will be influencers that you can subsequently follow. However, in comparison to what might be deemed more traditional social networks which focussed on peer to peer connections, Amazon Spark is not ashamed about having retail (or e-commerce) at the very core of its DNA. You do not have to buy products to browse the feeds but you do have to be a Prime member to engage via comments. Furthermore, photos don’t necessarily need to be Amazon stocked products but let’s get real here; Amazon Spark is a glorified digital version of window shopping. Holiday pictures will stay with Instagram for the time being.

To get started you need to go to the Amazon app > Programs & Features > Amazon Spark. From there you have to select a minimum of 5 categories or ‘interests’ and voila you can start to scroll till your heart’s content.

Seamless Buyer Journeys

Amazon Spark is capitalising on the success of their e-commerce platform, in contrast to Facebook looking to capitalise on the success of their social network by layering in e-commerce. As a result, Amazon users are already predisposed to buying on the platform so, should Amazon Spark be a success, this could be the first platform to truly capitalise on social commerce.

As Tech Crunch reported, Amazon Spark wants to capture the social conversations and engagement surrounding products that are currently happening on other platforms, i.e developing their very own ‘walled garden’. Amazon Spark promises users a more seamless buying process using Amazon to deliver curated content/products via interests, buying behaviour and following influencers, subsequently being able to check inventory and almost immediately buy the product via the main Amazon platform.

It’s a big difference to what Instagram and Pinterest have been attempting in terms of social commerce. With those two platforms users still need to visit another website to check stock and then potentially buy. With Amazon Spark they can stay on the same mobile application.

Amazon accelerating?

Jeff Besos appears to be managing a company with considerably large expansion plans. The acquisition of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion last month, the growth of Amazon Prime memberships, Amazon Video and the rights to stream 10 Thursday night NFL games, the success of Prime Day and now a foray into social media. They are a powerhouse and, if you believe Scott Galloway at L2inc, will be the first company to reach a $1 trillion market cap.

At a first glance it would not appear that Amazon are looking to create a competitor to the major social networks in their traditional sense. Instead they are utilising the popularity of social media to offer their customers an alternative shopping experience that is more integrated with the now daily use of social media.

It’s not perfect

Remember that this is only for users in the US at the moment (although you can apparently simply change your location to access Amazon Spark in the UK). As with LinkedIn’s new design, there are likely to be bugs at the beginning and it will require a critical mass of users posting and commenting for it to really take off (there are rumours of Amazon paying influencers to post!).

A different challenge for digital marketers?

It will be interesting to see how marketers look to utilise Amazon Spark as a revenue generation channel. It’s not quite as simple as PPC or Google Shopping where it is a simple ‘pay to play’ scenario. We believe that suppliers will be looking to develop relationships with key influencers (much like they do on Instagram) although Tech Crunch also reported that Amazon have not commented on any monetisation strategy for marketing.

Further complicating the issue, your products need to be on Amazon in order to realise any return on Spark based market efforts. As such, compounded by the affiliation with Prime membership, Spark is a much more exclusive club than the other social networks. Those that build these relationships early could help to drive serious revenue growth through Spark, on the caveat that the platform is popular!

Still Early

It would be a little premature to announce Amazon Spark as the next big thing in social commerce, or indeed in social networks. It is exciting however, especially considering that Amazon are approaching from a completely different angle in comparison to the likes of Pinterest or Instagram. They’re offering to consumers is already impressive so we would not put anything past them!

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