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Inferse.com | November 23, 2014

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Facebook buy button vs Amazon Fire phone: It’s got an uphill battle

Facebook buy button vs Amazon Fire phone: It’s got an uphill battle

By on July 20, 2014

Amazon’s Fire phone announced last month wasn’t anything stellar. It came with a 13MP camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), but LG did that in the LG G2 smartphone announced last August. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos compared the Fire phone to that of Samsung’s Galaxy S5, and Apple’s iPhone 5s at the presentation, all while claiming that the phone was designed for Amazon users (does he assume that all Galaxy and iPhone users are Amazon users?) – not a stellar move when you consider that the Galaxy and iPhone brands have quite breathtaking reputations for consumers at large.

The fact that the Fire phone relies on “Fire OS” which is nothing more than a forked version of Android isn’t a huge draw. Most consumers want Google Play Store access, and Amazon knew it couldn’t give customers access to Google without paying a price for it.

One thing that Amazon’s done right with the Fire phone is that the company’s embedded its Amazon purchase experience all over the place. Included within the features of the Fire phone is a scanner that allows you to scan a product when you see something of interest. You’re then taken to an Amazon purchase page where you can buy the item immediately, a huge help for those who may not be attuned to online shopping. If the Fire phone’s for Amazon customers, they’ll have no problem spending big bucks in addition to the $199 spent to buy the phone.

Beyond the phone, Amazon wants you to buy into its shopping ecosystem.

Facebook no longer has Google on its back, considering that the search engine giant’s been scaling down its social network and reaching out to others. Now, however, Facebook’s competing with Amazon. Amazon’s taken some years to get its smartphone out to customers, but the company’s used its time well. It’s built an online empire that’s hard to beat. I remember buying the first Kindle Keyboard E-Book reader, and, even then, the Amazon experience was about shopping for books and buying books.

Amazon’s reach has extended beyond books to just about anything you can imagine. And now, with a phone to boot, Amazon’s making sure that its customers are “trapped” into its own walled garden – a shopper’s paradise of sorts that’s so pleasant, you don’t wanna leave. And Facebook’s starting to realize that it’s a social network that’s all about communication (but not much more).

The whole Facebook phone experiment was designed to push Facebook beyond its app status or site status to something that would become a recognized and hyped brand. It could be the case that Facebook’s partnership with HTC to create the HTC First (and Facebook’s own brand ambitions) were too soon, but no one denies that it wasn’t a hit in the slightest. Amazon’s Fire phone launch, however, while still a little awkward in its timing, has an advantage – Amazon’s online empire has become even bigger than its virtual limitations. And, for the frequent Amazon shopper, adopting Amazon as a brand name is no different than buying Target-branded cologne from Target. Amazon’s become a trusted store name, while Facebook remains the social network it’s been since its inception.

If Facebook’s latest move to allow in-post purchases means anything, it’s that the 1-billion-user site now has to compete with the online empire of Amazon. In short, it’s an uphill battle.

Facebook’s built its success upon communication, social networking, the ability to meet friends, add friends, and talk with family. The site’s mostly known for sharing quotes, moments, special life announcements (again, the number of ultrasounds I see on a regular basis at the site is nothing short of shocking), and even your feelings. A number of studies within the last six months have said that Facebook’s public status updates have a tendency to make readers dive into depression and feel more depressed about their lives than if they refrained from reading new status updates. Seeing that dear friend of yours meet someone and start a dating relationship only makes you feel as though you’re inadequate and unfortunate.

In contrast, Amazon’s setup gives each user the control to buy what he or she wants. You’ve got no way to see what other users are buying, nor do you care how much someone else buys. At your fingertips is the “buy” button, the “add to cart” option that says that the power to buy is in your hands (that’s right: you’ve got the power!). Amazon empowers consumer shopping, making the consumer the one in control of his or her shopping destiny. And it even allows impulse buyers to get that “rush” that is often akin to eating lots of sugar products or running on adrenaline.

And yet, Facebook wants to compete with the shopping empire of Amazon. Why? In short, the Mark Zuckerberg company doesn’t wanna be left behind. Being the world’s largest social network base is no longer enough. When Zuckerberg’s company emerged to challenge old-timers such as MySpace, Facebook was about forging relationships. Lots of users today have forged relationships, so using Facebook has become similar to using email or text messaging: it’s there, we use it, we contact others, but we’re not reliant upon it every moment. This explains why Facebook’s seen a large amount of decline in how long users stay on the social site regularly. What doesn’t help is the fact that you’ve probably got 1,000 friends and don’t have time to read their status updates. It’s like email: who wants to go through and check 1,000 messages that are irrelevant?

Facebook’s desire to not be left behind explains why the company now wants to add some in-post buying options to ads on its home page. Yes, the new inclusion’ll give developers the chance to compete for user affections, but, beyond this, it’ll give Facebook the public impression that it’s a “spending consumer base” – an idea that makes Facebook seem like another Amazon in its own right.

At the same time, however, I don’t like the idea of Facebook wanting me to spend money. The goal of Facebook has been to forge relationships and bring people together; the company’s never said that Facebook is the goal of life on Facebook. The social networking site has existed to put people first. People matter more than things, more than possessions. That’s always been the message – and people have responded favorably to that.

Now, Facebook wants to compete with Amazon, sticking in consumer purchases abruptly in order to go head to head with a company that’s never tried to make a social network out of its consumer shopping experience and I’m not sure that Facebook can tie social networking and consumer shopping together. I don’t think any social networking site should, regardless of how large a user base it has.

Unless the message is that people can be bought, that is. Perhaps Facebook’s recent user data privacy breach shows the blurred line between consumers and objects, that consumers can be “bought.” Whatever the message is, thanks but no thanks, Facebook. I don’t prefer the “all in one” experience, so I’ll stick with Amazon for my shopping.

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