Amazon launched Spark just last month as an "Instagram meets e-commerce" initiative. Now, customers can chit-chat with like-minded people while they're shopping online.

The idea behind Spark is to translate engagement about Amazon products into purchases.

Inspired by Instagram

Amazon Spark isn't an original idea. It was unquestionably inspired by Instagram. It looks like a little bit of Pinterest was thrown into the mix as well.

Clearly, Spark is an image-focused social media channel. That's why it closely resembles the two social sites most famous for photos and graphics.

Spark also presents data in the familiar "feed" format. Users just scroll down to continue reading content.

It's still early, of course, but as with other social sites there's probably no "end" to the feed. In other words, users can scroll literally forever and continue to see content.

Much of that content is user-generated. Some of it is sponsored.

Users who like a post that they see on Spark can react with a "smile." That's similar to a "like" on Facebook.

Why Did Amazon Launch Spark?

Obviously, there's a profit motive behind Spark. Amazon is trying to keep engagement about products within its own ecosystem rather than on other social media channels.

The belief is that the closer people are to the conversion point, the more likely it is that they'll convert.

"We created Spark to allow customers to discover - and shop - stories and ideas from a community that likes what they like," said an Amazon spokeswoman.

"When customers first visit Spark, they select at least five interests they'd like to follow and we'll create a feed of relevant content contributed by others. Customers shop their feed by tapping on product links or photos with the shopping bag icon."

And according to Bob Hetu, research director at Gartner: "It's to learn more, to sell more and to connect to customers."

It's that "learn more" part that many analysts are overlooking. Amazon can gain quite a bit of insight into its customers' interests by watching how they behave on social media.

A Mobile Experience

Here's another way that Amazon Spark is just like Instagram: it's a social media site designed for mobile users.

If you want to use Amazon Spark, you're going to have to step away from your laptop or desktop and fire up your smartphone, tablet, or phablet.

You'll need an iOS mobile device, though. As of now, Spark doesn't run on Android.

Amazon tells us to "stay tuned" for an Android solution, but it hasn't materialized just yet.

Getting Started

If you're ready to enjoy the Spark experience, fire up your iOS mobile device and tap your Amazon app icon.

Yes, you'll need the Amazon app if you want to use Spark. Fortunately, it's free.

Once you're in the Amazon app, select the "Programs & Features" item on the app's navigation menu. Then, tap on the Amazon Spark option.

When you join Spark for the first time, you'll go through a registration process that's painless and, probably, familiar if you're on other social media sites.

For example, you'll be asked to select five interests. You can choose more than five if you want to, but you must select at least five.

Interest range from broad categories like "Style & Fashion," "Music," and "Books" to niche options such as "TV Bingewatching" and "BBQ."

You'll also be asked whether or not you'd like to receive notifications. Unsurprisingly, notifications on Amazon Spark work similarly to notifications on other social media platforms.

The Feed

Once you're done setting up your account for the first time, Amazon Spark will show you your feed. It will include ideas, imagery, and (Amazon) products that match your interests.

For example, if you like sportfishing, you can expect to see advertisements for offshore rods and reels in your feed. If you like books, prepare to see ads for lots of best-sellers.

Not everything you see will be an ad, though. You'll likely see a lot of product reviews.

And that makes perfect sense. Other people who share your interests are on Spark are talking about Amazon products, after all.

There's some chatter that people who share insights about products on Amazon Spark will become the new "Top Reviewers." That remains to be seen.

You can shop directly from your Amazon Spark feed as well. There's a shopping bag icon on the bottom, right-hand side of content that promotes products. You can just click on it to purchase anything in the photo.

The Edge

Amazon Spark has one big advantage over Instagram. That's because its e-commerce component is integrated directly into the social feed.

Instagram can't compete with that.

In fact, Spark users can shop on Amazon without even leaving the social site.

If you are selling on Amazon, not to worry. As far as we know, there are no limitations regarding Vendor Central or Seller Central.

So you can rest easy.