Amazon has just announced a new social network for shoppers who are looking to scan around for new items, but may not have something specific in mind.
The service, Amazon Spark, is a feed for Prime users that looks a lot like Instagram, where users can share stories, pictures and ideas that include stuff to buy.
Marketplace’s Molly Wood joined us to talk about the overall effectiveness of social media and whether Amazon can get you to make a spontaneous purchase.
David Brancaccio: All right, so what do we know? Are social networks good at getting people to buy stuff?
Molly Wood: That is a little bit of the conundrum for me here. Social networks are very effective at delivering advertising, and they make a lot of money doing that for the most part, — and I’m talking Facebook, Instagram — which Facebook owns — and even Pinterest. There is, though, not a lot of evidence that people shop a lot through social networking, and that includes even Twitter.
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Brancaccio: Yeah, I know. I mean, I see Uncle Frankie has just bought some kind of widget. I’m not sure I immediately whip out the credit card and buy it because he said so on social media.
Wood: Yeah, and that’s what I think is interesting about Amazon Spark is that it’s not your friends. Certainly, if a friend of mine bought something really cool on Instagram or Facebook, I might be more likely to check that thing out because it’s my actual friend. What Spark is trying to do is sort of use the power of the Amazon reviews so that if you see a post from someone, and it amounts to a product review, you might be more interested in buying that thing. But again, it’s not your actual friends. And to me that feels like a big drawback, because at the end of the day, even if these are real people, it feels like a feed full of ads.
Brancaccio: Wait, the penny’s finally dropping for me here. Of course you go to a place like Amazon if you’re looking to get a good price and looking to buy something specific, but you don’t just kind of go browsing. “I’d like to spend some money today, maybe I’ll find something entertaining on Amazon.” But this is a little bit of a test of, “maybe we could persuade someone to do an impulse [buy].”
Wood: What you’ve seen with Amazon, if you’ve watched — they’ve made all these sort of quirky little moves that are ultimately ways to get people to buy more things. They have those dash buttons that you would put all over your house. Even their devices — the Amazon Echo has a built-in shopping list with this idea that you’ll use it to order things. And I think that this Spark feed is definitely in that vein, because the biggest drawback to using Amazon or any on-demand service over retail is that you don’t just discover things, you don’t browse. In fact, browsing on Amazon, frankly, as a user experience, is terrible. And so I think they are trying to create more ways for you, like you said, to have an impulse moment on Amazon. Right now, I might impulse buy a couple of USB cables, but probably not the cowboy hat or a trailer.
Brancaccio: You are our senior tech correspondent. That is what I would expect you would be shopping for.