For years, analysts have predicted that social platforms would eventually deliver frictionless commerce. These expectations have focused primarily on the retail experiences of publishers like Instagram and Pinterest, but it may be time to start thinking about how Internet retailers might drive the evolution of “social commerce.”
So what is “social commerce”? It’s the ability to make a purchase within a social platform. Whether you are discovering products via recommendations from friends or through paid advertisements, social commerce provides seamless e-commerce experiences. Experiments in the space have been driven from a variety of social platforms in recent years:
Facebook Store features allow companies to upload products and product information and to all for selling directly from their page.
Facebook Messenger allows peer-to-peer payments
Buyable Pinterest Pins allow people to buy products without leaving the platform
Despite the potential of social commerce, early data suggests that it has not yet scaled. Limited payment options and security concerns are two potential roadblocks; but in many cases, consumers simply haven’t recognized that these options are available. Until now, no solutions have been able to effectively bridge this gap.
However, earlier this month, Amazon – the retail giant that currently controls 34% of all e-commerce in the United States – launched its own, highly sophisticated, social network: Spark, (currently available only to Prime Members in the U.S.).
Spark is an Instagram-meets-Pinterest discovery-style newsfeed that combines the ease of an Amazon-style shopping experience with users who share similar category interests. Users access Spark’s interactive social platform experience from within the Amazon Shopping Mobile App (it’s not yet available on desktop) where the shopper has the option to purchase products directly as they appear in a Spark newsfeed.
Users can click on each Spark post/story to see which products shown are “shoppable” (and available on Amazon). When an Amazon Prime member uploads a post of a product or a lifestyle image, they have the option to tag the product they recently purchased. While social media platforms like Instagram let you show off your recent purchases, Spark makes it easy (using the classic Amazon one-click check-out) for others to actually buy the products you’re sharing.
Early signs indicate that Spark is still in a public testing phase. Besides its limited availability, another indication that the new network isn’t ready for full release is that it currently lacks any paid advertising opportunities. There were, however, influencer integrations available at the platform’s launch where “Spark Enthusiasts” (Amazon’s term for influential users) were able to add #Sponsored to their posts, indicating that they do have a partnership in place.
What does this mean for Brands in the near future?
According to Business Insider, “Amazon's advertising business could reach $5 billion in revenue in 2018”. Knowing this, and given that every social platform has some sort of sponsored post or promoted product, Spark has the potential to open up its features to bigger advertisers and brands, eventually leading to paid opportunities. Once Amazon confirms that consumers have bought into the concept, you can expect to see them use their almost limitless database of individual user information to showcase relevant products. This means that once a person signs up for Spark, Amazon can use their database to map that person’s behavior, find the most relevant products, and promote them through a highly visually and aesthetically pleasing experience. The network might eventually show users which of their friends also purchased a particular product, share their reviews of it, and suggest additional related products.
Recent commentary from Amazon confirmed, “For brands/sellers to participate in Spark, this is on the roadmap for launch in Q4 2017. Brands/Sellers will be able to create an official Amazon Profile (with a verified badge), which will allow them to contribute to Spark. In the meantime, eligible Spark customers can use their own Amazon profile to represent their brand/product and contribute to Spark. All brands/sellers in Spark have to follow Amazon’s Community Guidelines, which include, but are not limited to identifying themselves as the brand/seller and not diverting customers away from Amazon.”
Given Amazon’s reputation as a disruptor and their rapidly growing advertising platform, it is clear to see why it could be in a brand’s best interest to embrace Spark as soon as solutions begin to rollout to brands. Even in these early stages, there is a path to social commerce dominance beginning to form in the not-too-distant future for the e-commerce giant. Even if that path isn’t yet completely clear, is there anyone who would want to bet against the projected world’s first trillion dollar company?
Brad Wehkamp, Manager, Structured Data & Feeds and Jordan Jacobson, Regional Director, Paid Social West Coast also contributed to this blog post.