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Amazon Spark: What It Is, Why It Makes Sense, and What It Means for Marketers

Image source: Amazon Spark

Jeff Bezos is taking the challenge of social selling into his own hands. Amazon has debuted an Instagram-like social discovery and selling feature called Amazon Spark, which it’s been testing in beta for months, according to TechCrunch.

“Amazon Spark is a place to discover things from people who share your interests,” the marketplace behemoth writes on its website. “Whether you’re looking for inspiration for home décor or seeking advice for the best long-distance running shoes, Spark makes it easy to discover — and shop — stories and ideas from a community that likes what you like.”

Amazon already has an abundance of customer data and Spark only adds to this insight. When people open Spark by visiting the “programs and features” section in the app, they’re prompted to indicate at least five areas of interest from about 100 categories, such as books, style and fashion, fitness, kids and parenting, and music. Customers are then prompted to create a profile name, which will appear alongside their posts, comments, and product reviews. Although Amazon acknowledges that people’s posts, comments, and interests are all public, it also says that customers’ purchase and browsing history will remain private.

Once people complete these steps, Amazon’s algorithm will serve them content and products that pertain to their interests in their Spark feed. They can also check out different topic categories through the “Explore” feature and opt in to notifications. Plus, people can keep track of their Spark activity, like comments or “smiles” (the equivalent of a like) via the “Your Activity” section.

If people want to create their own content, they can tap the plus icon in the upper right-hand corner of their feed and share a thought, photo, recently purchased Amazon product, link, or poll — which compares Amazon products side by side and allows people to vote for their favorite, leave comments, and examine each product in a more in-depth way.

Spark can currently be accessed via the Amazon app for iPhone only. While Amazon encourages all customers to view the content posted on Spark, it currently allows only Prime members to contribute.

Prime members make up Amazon’s most loyal customer base. According to a May 2017 survey by financial services organization Cowen and Company — reported by eMarketer — Prime members comprised 61% of total Amazon purchasers in the study’s most recently analyzed quarter. What’s more, U.S. Amazon Prime members place, on average, 3.5 orders per month versus 2.2 orders per month for non-Prime members, eMarketer writes about the study.

The launch of Spark makes sense considering Amazon’s recent trajectory. 

As TechCrunch reported in March, Amazon launched a beta influencer program in which social media influencers with large social followings could earn fees for driving Amazon purchases. Amazon will continue to reward engaging customers through Enthusiasts. Enthusiasts, according to Amazon, are “customers who frequently share engaging and high-quality content on Amazon related to the interests their most passionate about.” These influencers, who are marked with an Enthusiast badge, can receive compensation for their work, including early access to new products on Amazon.com.

Apu Gupta, CEO and cofounder of visual marketing and commerce platform provider Curalate, says Spark also addresses Amazon’s need of helping consumers discover more relevant products.

“Amazon is great if you know what you’re looking for,” he said in an email interview. “But with more than 500 [million] products for sale, there’s no way for consumers to really discover products in a natural way. Amazon needed to figure out how to introduce people to products they didn’t know existed…thereby getting their existing consumers to spend more.”

Its resemblance to Instagram isn’t completely shocking, either — especially when it comes to targeting Gen Z consumers. Business Insider reports that more than 80% of Gen Z consumers and 74% of millennials say social media influences their shopping. And in “The 2017 Love List Brand Affinity Index” — a study of millennial and Gen Z consumer preferences by Condé Nast and Goldman Sachs — Amazon secured the number two spot in the study’s list of today’s top 20 apps used; Snapchat won the first-place spot and Instagram secured the third.

It will be interesting to see how these social apps respond to Spark. Instagram, which has already been dabbling in the social shopping sphere, has been known to adopt popular capabilities from other platforms, like Snapchat (so has acquirer Facebook). Interestingly enough, Snap Inc, the company that grew out of Snapchat, is selling its recording sunglasses Spectacles on Amazon, which have already appeared in the Spark feed.

Image source: Amazon Spark

Jon Kroopf, head of growth for influencer marketing software platform CreatorIQ, says Spark could also impact how other social platforms engage with influencers.

“If Spark becomes a viable platform for influencers,” he said in an email interview, “it will put pressure on other social platforms to offer more tools and revenue opportunities for influencers to participate [in].”

So, how does Spark impact marketers? Well, they’ll face both opportunities and challenges.

Tim Sovay, COO of CreatorIQ, says Amazon has the potential to close one of the greatest gaps in the creator economy: a lack of direct attribution. And while this won’t come easily, the wins could be substantial.

“Spark’s biggest challenge may be the value proposition for the creators and their followers,” he said in an email statement. “While Amazon has built a powerful affiliate marketing program, it’ll be interesting to see how creators will be compensated for their efforts along with their fans’ willingness to move to yet another social (commerce) platform. But if Amazon gets this right, it has the potential to be the HSN/QVC for a new generation.”

The feedback that marketers could get in terms of Spark’s public comments and interests could also provide value, especially if a product were pinned against a competitor in a poll. Whether marketers will be able to leverage deeper Spark insights, however, remains unknown.

“This is the big open question,” Gupta said. “Will Amazon use the data to enrich its own understanding of consumers or will it share the data with brands?” 

As for marketers trying to figure out how to address this new channel, Kroopf advises them to study the audiences that flock to Spark.

“Most social platforms get popular by owning a niche audience during their early stages,” he says. “Marketers should first study the initial users that adopt Spark and confirm that is their target audience before designing marketing programs for the Spark.”

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