Social commerce might still be evolving, but the winners and losers are already starting to emerge. As Instagram advances its shopping powers, Amazon reportedly just nixed Spark, its two-year-old social shopping experiment, this past week.
Designed to bridge social media and shopping, Spark was billed as a fun, inspirational discovery tool. The service showcased a customized feed of user photos, as well as community features, like ways customers could connect with or get advice from one another.
Unlike some of Amazon’s other interests, like groceries or health care, Spark seemingly did not ignite much interest. And Chee Chew, head of Amazon customer engagement and the main proponent for Spark, left for cloud communications company Twilio.
With Amazon reportedly ending the project, the web site and app now point would-be Spark users to a new #FoundItOnAmazon page. But in Amazon’s bid to develop social features, the company runs a risk of confusing its customers.
#FoundItOnAmazon is similar to another Amazon project, a three-year-old tool called Interesting Finds. The former features fashion photography and user images for apparel, accessories and furnishings, while the latter seems chock full of glorified shopping lists for everything from tires to teacher supplies. Yet both seem to take cues from Pinterest boards and aim to help boost product discovery on the e-commerce platform.
Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a WWD request for comment. But as the e-commerce giant appears to be sending Spark into the sunset, it’s expected to continue running the other two social-esque tools. And it’s still working with Snap Inc., under a 2018 partnership that lets Snapchat users search for Amazon products by photo and offers live shopping videos for sellers.
That Amazon would test ways to boost discovery on its platform should be no surprise. Critics have long complained that its marketplace was best suited for mission-driven shopping. In other words, it seems to work best when customers have a specific item or category in mind, not when they’re looking for inspiration or hoping to find unexpected treasures.
Still, the seeming demise of Spark highlights why the major social media platforms have become a force in retail. Although large operators invest in creating their own homegrown communities and social features, it’s hard to overlook the growing prominence of Instagram and Pinterest, where socially motivated, fashion-minded consumers already tend to congregate and engage.
Amazon hasn’t shared Spark user figures, but by most accounts, they measured in the tens of thousands. Even if they landed in the hundreds of thousands, that would pale in comparison to Instagram, which has more than a billion monthly active users. Stories alone attracts more than 500 million active users per day. And over the past year, the photo-sharing network has rolled out shoppable posts, shopping channels and new checkout features, while parent company Facebook has been dabbling with shopping videos.
Meanwhile, Pinterest’s product discovery powers continue to nab attention. The company, which went public in April, landed the top spot on a Cowen & Co. survey as the leading social network for product searches in the U.S. As many as 48 percent of participants said they use the platform to search and shop. Facebook and Instagram only attracted 14 and 10 percent, respectively.
Amazon could do a number of things from here. It could push for partnerships with more social media platforms, deepen its existing relationship with Snapchat or ratchet up its own remaining social features. It could also pursue some combination of these simultaneously, which — given Amazon’s knack for experimentation — seems the most likely.
In any case, the company’s probably not done with social. It’s just a matter of trying and testing until it finds the right approach, which would be classic Amazon, after all.