Amazon Inspire Treads in TikTok Territory

Amazon Inspire

Amazon is launching a TikTok-like feature called Inspire that lets users scroll through short-form videos and hopefully buy stuff from brands, but industry observers don’t seem too inspired by the company’s latest venture into social commerce, an area that hasn’t really exploded.

Amazon began testing Inspire last fall internally with employees, and launched it Thursday for select customers, the Wall Street Journal reported. Visitors can make in-app purchases served up through photos and videos posted in Inspire. They’re also hoping to make it a destination site in its own right for social sharing, in order to fuel commerce.

Experts said it’s yet another in a long line of social media experiments for Amazon stretching back a decade, including the current QVC-like Amazon Live. A check of the feed today found something south of 2,000 viewers; it maxed out at 70,000 on Prime Day. Amazon Spark, an Instagram clone from 2017, also went nowhere. Posts from Amazon Ads, designed to drive brand and product discovery in a shoppable feed, is now in beta.

While Amazon has millions of users, experts say the competition for eyeballs and dollars in short-form video is fierce, with the likes of TikTok, Facebook, Google, Instagram and many others plying the waters. TikTok is now testing in-app shopping in the U.S., even as Utah Gov. Spencer Cox becomes the latest Republican governor to issue a ban on the app based on security concerns.

“All the social media platforms tend to copy each other, and Amazon’s a little late to the party,” said Chris McCabe, a former investigation specialist with Amazon and now an ecommerce consultant. “And I’m not sure the copying Tiktok technique works anywhere.”

“Amazon is very good at commerce, but not very good at social,” agreed Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis. “Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, none of them has been successful in turning social media directly into commerce. They’ve all been experiments.”

Goldberg said ByteDance’s TikTok owns the only successful formula to date for social commerce, at least for now just in China: a three-sided marketplace consisting of millions of addicted users, engaging content creators and “a pool of people to monetize it by selling products or ads.”

“I look at Inspire, there are a lot of products and they’ll surely have a seamless checkout experience,” he said. “But where is the pool of 100 million people to consume content from Amazon? There’s no compelling reason to go to Amazon rather than TikTok. In that way it’s not an obvious hypothesis for how going to win.”

Juozas Kaziukėnas, founder and CEO of Marketplace Pulse, said Amazon’s Inspire is trying to solve a flaw all shopping websites and apps have in the U.S.: they are only opened when the consumer knows they need something, not to browse casually. He said he was surprised Inspire will allow visitors to post content, as all social nets do.

“So, ecommerce in the U.S. is very transactional but doesn’t have the same discovery and browsing experience physical retail has,” Kaziukėnas said. “Amazon now wants shoppers to spend time in their app even when they don’t want to shop.” By its nature, he added, Inspire is purpose-built to drive shopping, making it less engaging than other social platforms.