After several months of beta testing away from the public’s eye, Amazon released a social media platform called Amazon Spark. Spark sets up the online retailer to compete with Instagram and Pinterest. While Spark is currently available only to U.S. users on the Amazon iPhone app, it will reach users in other countries and on other operating systems in the near future.

What Is Spark?

Spark is a shopping feed where Amazon users can post photos and stories about products they have purchased. Most of these products, although not all, are available for purchase on Amazon. Other users can comment and react to posts with a “smile.”

When users sign up for Spark, they are directed to specify their areas of interest, choosing five or more from a set list. The majority match Amazon product categories, but there are also options like photography, dogs, and Internet of things. Once users have chosen, Spark generates a customized feed of posts.

To encourage active users to transition to Spark, Amazon has introduced the Enthusiasts program. This program rewards repeat contributors with a badge that appears on their Spark posts and product reviews. This may replace Amazon’s current Top Reviewers system, which acknowledges users who write many reviews and leave many ratings.

Trouble for Instagram and Pinterest?

When you access Spark, you’ll notice that it resembles Instagram, and it also features some aspects of Pinterest. Its primary purpose is to engage more users on the Amazon app, help shoppers discover new products, and drive sales. However, it also has a social element that could spell trouble for other platforms.

For instance, it is possible to post images without links to products. Although many posts in a user’s feed are products, content can also be ideas and images. In this way, as well as presenting items that users may like to purchase, Spark offers users information on topics they may like to learn more about.

Furthermore, the layout of the platform makes it much easier to purchase than on Instagram. When a post is connected to a product for sale on Amazon, a shopping bag icon appears at the bottom right corner. Posts may also feature yellow circles to show which products are available for purchase in an image. Users can tap the yellow circle on the product they are interested in to go straight to the relevant product page.

Compare this to Instagram — there is no way to directly reach product pages on the platform. Instead, users need to search based on tags, and there is always the risk that products may be out of stock. In contrast, since posts on Spark are connected to Amazon inventory, users know that they will never waste their time, as they will always find a product for sale.

The Limitations of Amazon Spark

Unlike other social platforms, Amazon limits some features on Spark to some members. To contribute to reviews and answers, to post on discussion forums, and to follow other contributors, you need to be an Amazon Prime member (excluding members taking a free trial) and you need to have spent at least $50 on Amazon (excluding promotional discounts). This means users need to pay at least $149 to Amazon to become a full member on Spark.

Members who don’t qualify can only read content, post customer questions, and create and modify profile pages, lists, and registries.

Another limitation, particularly for brands, is that it is not possible to use Spark to promote your own products. Users are forbidden from creating content and engaging in other activities with the intent of advertising items and soliciting sales. This includes offering special deals or leaving other calls to action.

Those with a financial interest on Amazon can still join Spark — they just need to regulate their behavior. For example, in the Questions and Answers feature, they cannot ask questions. However, they can respond to questions and mention a product they sell, provided they disclose their connection to the product. In some cases, Amazon will even label that answers come from a seller or manufacturer.

The Takeaway

Although Amazon limits how businesses can use Spark, Instagram and Pinterest also have limitations. There is certainly an opportunity for paid influencers and brands to benefit from Spark.

For instance, the restriction of only allowing Amazon Prime members to post may be beneficial for businesses. These businesses have the chance to form part of an elite and will have less content to compete with to reach their target audience.

The big question is, since many users will be unable to contribute fully themselves, will they want to give this new platform a chance?