Is the future of commerce social? It depends on who you ask, and the answer is likely to be based on where you look.
One thing is indisputable, however: brands continue to invest in their social presences, and challenges notwithstanding, many are still trying to figure out how to convert social to sales and track the process.
That combination of social investment and desire to drive sales apparently hasn't gone unnoticed by online retail giant Amazon, which this week began launching its own Amazon Pages offering modeled after popular social sites.
Adweek's Tim Peterson explains:
As might be expected, Amazon Pages takes the most popular—and widely imitated—features from Facebook and Pinterest and wraps them in Amazon’s merchandising design. The top of an Amazon Page is home to a Timeline-esque image that can include a product visual, which users can click to add to their Amazon shopping carts.
Below that banneresque image, brands can run one of three format templates: All Products, Posts With Merchandising and Posts Only. The first two templates include a merchandising widget that lets brands display either product images with an "Add to Cart" button or links to products; featured products and links seem limited to items available on Amazon. Underneath the merchandising widget, brands have the option to display a shoppable product gallery or a posts feed.
The social twist: brands have the ability to publish 140 character posts (sound familiar?) through a related offering dubbed Amazon Posts. These posts are published to a brand's Amazon Page and can also be cross-posted to the brand's Facebook account.
According to Matt Wurst, director of digital communities at digital agency 360i, Amazon's motivation to develop brand pages may extend beyond a simple desire to become more social.
While observing that Facebook has yet to prove that it can drive purchases -- potentially creating an opening for Amazon to capitalize on the social commerce opportunity -- he also points to Amazon's existing Brand Stores offering and speculates that "giving...brands a more official platform on Amazon will reduce the amount of cannibalization from resellers".
Driving sales and proving it
So will Amazon Pages and Posts be a hit with brands? That depends. While the evidence shows that brands are eager to adopt new social platforms, what brands do with their accounts is a different matter entirely.
Case in point: according to a recent study, 70% of Facebook Pages operated by brands are inactive.
The good news for Amazon: it's not ignoring analytics, something Facebook has struggled to perfect. Brands using Amazon Pages and Posts have access to another service, Amazon Analytics, which Amazon says can help brands measure the "reach, views, considerations, and purchase lift" of their Page and Post activities.
If Amazon can deliver the eyeballs of shoppers to its Pages and Posts, and prove to brands that these social offerings are driving sales through its Analytics offering, it could quickly become a must-use platform for brands hoping that social is more than just a bunch of conversations.