Member Exclusive   //   November 11, 2019

Amazon is testing new seller features, including A/B tests for content and Instagram-like posts

Amazon is quietly testing new marketing features.

Over the last few weeks, brands and vendors have been given beta access to new tools to help them raise their digital profiles, which includes the ability to A/B test posts, post pictures in a way similar to Instagram and a live-stream video for Amazon users. Put together, it shows Amazon increasingly trying to woo more clients to marketing services, and giving them some of the controls and capabilities they’ve been asking for. And they happen to look a lot like the tools and multimedia content that Facebook has been offering to advertisers for years.

Customer data has long been something that Amazon has held close to its chest. Indeed, its refusal to share key metrics like return shoppers has enraged sellers on the platform for years. The A/B testing function in Amazon’s Seller Central, called “manage your experiments,” lets sellers make one big change to a listing and then analyze whether it impacted results. It’s only available to businesses on the company’s brand registry.

It may seem like a small capability, but it indicates that Amazon is at least trying to make strides with brands on the platform to give them more control and better analytics about how certain products are doing.

Modern Retail reached out to Amazon for comment about these new tests and the overall strategy and didn’t hear back by press time.

Another program in beta focuses on image-based posts. It essentially lets users post single images with captions, similar to Instagram. It’s currently free for sellers and vendors to try, and Amazon shares data-like impressions, clicks and click-through rate (although it doesn’t give the brands numbers on sales). Users can find these posts on Amazon’s brand pages. “It’s a good move,” said Kiri Masters, CEO of the Amazon consultancy Bobsled Marketing. “It gets people in the mindset of creating content for Amazon.”

Screenshot via Amazon

Meanwhile, Amazon has also been pushing brands to use its live-streaming features. It currently has two offerings, each with a similar name: Amazon Live and Amazon Live-Streaming. The latter is an open program for any brand on Amazon to live-stream content to the site. The former is for select brands, who are invited into Amazon’s studio to produce a QVC-like segment to promote their products. It’s much more polished, and distributed more widely by Amazon. And sources said that Amazon let the brands use the audience viewing data to retarget ads using the company’s programmatic offerings. Amazon has been pushing its Live program since early 2019.

Amazon’s ad presence is still a drop in the bucket compared to Google and Facebook, but it’s rapidly growing. eMarketer estimates the company’s ad revenue will hit nearly $10 billion in 2019, which is a 33% boost from the year before — but only 8% of the overall marketshare. Google’s ad revenue, meanwhile, is expected to hit $48.05 billion and Facebook $28.52 billion. The e-commerce platform’s ad program is expected to grow — and one of the ways it’s doing that is by testing out new features that are similar to competitors’.

All of these programs provide brands with more tailored ways to craft, create and analyze content. It’s currently being portrayed as a way to increase brand visibility, but Amazon, of course, has its own self-interest in mind. It comes at a time when the overall brand tenor with Amazon is resignation. Companies know they need to use the platform to grow business, but there’s a general sense of mistrust. Modern Retail recently surveyed a group of retailers and brands, and found that 41% did not consider the platform to be trustworthy — only 12% did. Similarly, only 8% were satisfied with either Amazon’s data it provides to partners or the dashboards and seller services it offers. These latest beta tests seem like new ways for Amazon to keep its brands and sellers happy.

This new content push has echoes from an earlier, failed project: Amazon Spark. It was an attempt by the e-commerce platform to launch a social network, and it fell flat. In 2018, Digiday reached out to multiple agencies and influencers, all of whom found little utility from Spark. But these latest strides all look very much like a revamped version of the project. Where Spark failed, she reasoned, was in its talent sourcing — Amazon primarily sought out influencers to post content.

The intent, it seems, is to make Amazon more of a discovery platform — thus why it’s seeking out more multimedia content to catch shoppers’ eyes. While Amazon is a preferred place for people intending to make a purchase, it’s yet to find a way to capitalize on item discovery.

These new beta tests are all products for brands, who have the incentive to post more on the Amazon platform. “They are the ones who are most eager to create content,” said Masters.