For decades, brand marketers have chased after loyalty—relying on a multitude of tactics to secure long-term customers and, eventually, convert them into brand advocates. Today, for retailers, the fight for customer loyalty has never been more competitive, largely thanks to Amazon. The commerce giant has effortlessly positioned itself as the king of convenience and competitive pricing. In essence, the company has crafted the Prime loyalty program based on transactional benefits and rewards. And it’s worked. Today, nearly half of U.S. households are members.
As a result, many brands—knowing they can’t realistically compete with Amazon on price or convenience—have been forced to cultivate a different breed of loyalty with consumers, one that’s characterized by emotion rather than delivery speed or discounts. Take Away, a luggage company that sells much more than a simple suitcase. In fact, the brand’s “about” page is hardly about luggage at all. Instead, it tells a story about exploration and modern travel. And, of course, their Instagram feed serves up a stream of beautiful content.
Away represents a new wave of brands that are deeply passionate about appearances and experiences. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, carving out an emotional relationship with their customers may very well be the only way to keep up with Amazon.
And then came Spark, Amazon’s new shoppable social feed for Prime members.
With the launch of Spark, Amazon has dipped its toes into an e-commerce strategy that’s much less transactional, and much more emotional. No longer will Prime members flock to the site solely to find an exact product at a competitive price, but instead they’ll play a game of discovery—one that Instagram and Pinterest have mastered. Customers won’t engage with Spark because they’re in need of a specific product, instead they’ll willingly interact with the larger Amazon community—fulfilling their emotional needs, while also obtaining a clear sense of belonging.
As an image-based feed, Spark posts are created by “enthusiasts,” rather than traditional “reviewers.” And, instead of opting for a “like” or “favorite” button, customers can react to posts with comments and “smiles.” The move is a surefire way for Amazon to deepen its relationship with loyal Prime members, relying on lifestyle imagery and shoppable content as a tool for driving increased engagement.
What’s more, Spark delivers another source of psychographic data for Amazon. By requiring users to select their interests upon log-in, the company gains a whole new layer of insight into its customers’ wants and needs, outside of mere purchasing history.
It’s true that this isn’t just about the long game. There is short-term revenue potential for Amazon, particularly when used in conjunction with its current offerings. Spark will feed new data into the personalization of customer journeys, and also benefit from data collected at other touchpoints. Soon, for example, Amazon will be able to leverage pre-existing data—from purchase history to Alexa queries—to make the Spark feed as relevant and engaging as possible. That ultimately will drive even more transactions, both from the Spark feed and everywhere else.
Still, the long-term ROI of Spark is undoubtedly its ability to position Amazon as the leader not only in mere customer satisfaction, but also in emotional loyalty. And, that’s marketing gold. According to Harvard Business Review, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers—yes they buy more, but they also visit the brand’s site more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to brand communications and evolve into vocal advocates.
Amazon was already winning the retail game with convenience and competitive prices. But now, the company is poised to win consumers on all fronts. For brands, this leaves them one step closer to losing the one competitive advantage they had left—a deep, often unspoken, connection with their customers. In order to stay afloat, retailers will need to maintain their emotional edge, while also ramping up their ability to deliver highly efficient, personalized and engaging commerce experiences. And the pressure is on as Spark is already out there, looking to win not only customers’ wallets, but this time, their hearts as well.
Acquia provides cloud-based content management technology.