All Amazon’s new Instagram-imitator Spark is missing is a Valencia filter.

The retail marketplace launched Amazon Spark for the U.S. in its mobile app today, rolling out a feed of shoppable photos posted by Prime Members. (Non-Prime members can view the Spark feed, but can’t post or react to others’ posts.) While some images are more product-heavy than others, all images link to featured items that are on sale and in stock on Amazon.

The feed, which is found under the app’s Programs & Features tab, also draws inspiration from Pinterest by asking users to select at least five topics they’re interested in, from Style and Fashion to Internet of Things, which then dictate the feed. But the user experience is set up to mirror Instagram, and Spark has tackled Instagram’s lack of shoppability right out of the gate.

But unlike Instagram, Amazon’s dive into inspiration-driven shopping puts the control in the hands of customers, not the brands.

“The customer is in charge,” said Rachel Spiegelman, CEO of the agency Pitch. “In general, in retail, they’ve been in charge for a couple of years now. So when they’re posting photos on Amazon Spark, it’s not a brand just pushing product through another platform. It’s basically an enhanced customer review.”

Amazon Spark most closely replicates Instagram’s shoppable product tags, which let only brand and business accounts tag items shown in posts, similar to how people are tagged in photos. When you click through to view an item tagged in Instagram, users are brought to an in-app details page before they’re ultimately sent to shop via the brand’s or retailer’s mobile website. For fashion brands, connecting the dots for conversion has been a slow and finicky process. Third-party apps like Like2Buy initially popped up to recreate Instagram feeds with added links to featured products; in response, Instagram has rolled out its own capabilities, including shoppable ads and the product tags, but at a gradual pace.

Amazon Spark, with the objective of getting customers to spend more on Amazon, sends those who click on tagged products to the Amazon product page within the app. While this limits product tags to items only available on Amazon, it also guarantees that shoppers won’t decide to buy something that’s no longer available, a problem that has riddled both Pinterest and Instagram’s conversion efforts. When Amazon owns the full inspiration-to-purchase experience, even when customers are selecting what products to tag, the product has to be available for purchase on Amazon.


The product link to a pair of Sam Edelman shoes in Amazon Spark.

As Instagram has navigated the in-app shopping experience through brand-first partnerships, the platform’s powerful influencers have also been left out of the opportunity. Amazon’s customer-review approach rethinks who an influencer is: All Prime members can post and link to items, and just like Top Reviewers are rewarded, the most active Spark members will get an “Enthusiast” badge in the feed, with prioritized post positioning.

As the platform is passed off as a product-review feed, Amazon doesn’t have to pay participants a cut. (In fact, as it’s only open for Prime Members to post to, people basically have to pay Amazon to participate.) It also doesn’t need to convince brands to sign onto the platform; users can post and link to any product they want, as long as it’s available on Amazon. Brands can already see how Spark posts are performing: Photos are accompanied by a view count.

In Amazon’s quest to win over fashion brands, Spark could offer some leverage. If Prime members, in fact, embrace it, brands that are holding out could miss out on visibility on the platform, which offers more context than Amazon’s typical product feed. But in typical Amazon fashion, it doesn’t offer brands much control over the content their items are featured in or the other brands they’re featured alongside. It’s also safe to assume that wholesale, Prime-enabled brands will be prioritized.

“Amazon is surgically addressing the shopping and customer experience,” said Spiegelman. “If I were a fashion brand, I would be knocking on their door to see what they’re thinking and how can we partner with them.”


A #sponsored post on Amazon Spark.

It’s also easy to see how how the Spark influencers could find a way to get brands to pay for their posts down the line.

“It’s interesting, in terms of where we see influencer marketing headed. They’re going to have to strike the right balance of authenticity of the reviews; you don’t want brands partnering with influencers just for the sake of getting something in return,” said Toni Box, group director of content and social at PMX Agency. “We’re already seeing this start to happen across the influencer space, where the storytelling aspect is really critical.”

Now, it’s likely only a matter of time until Amazon launches Stories.