Earlier this morning Amazon unveiled its new virtual currency, Amazon Coins, allowing users to swap real-life US currency for the digital coins. Kindle Fire users in the US will be the first to receive the coins, getting 500 coins ($5-worth) which are able to be used to purchase anything on Amazon’s site. This doesn’t mean that other consumers can’t pick up Amazon Coins though, as the Amazon Coins page is open and ready for business. There is also a discount available that will scale up with however many coins you buy all the way up to $100 where you will get a 10% discount.
While an intriguing venture, many critics are already left wondering what the point of the currency is. At first it would seem that Amazon is trying its own hand at a sort-of Bitcoin-esque system as an alternative, but because the currency only works on their site it makes the coins a private currency and thus has no value outside of Amazon. Amazon coins then, are closer to store-credit, a-la Microsoft Points rather than actual money. An Amazon representative reported “Amazon Coins are an easy way for customers to purchase apps, games and in-app items. And customers have the option – those who prefer to use traditional forms of currency can continue to do so.” Throughout the year Amazon plans to give coins away through developers and straight to consumers. Although no specific plans have been announced on how those coins will be dispersed, it’s doubtful that we’ll have to wait long for multiple promotion deals and giveaways.
All of this still begs the question, what exactly is the point of Amazon Coins? While Amazon may be one of, if not the best company to introduce these into the marketplace with competitors ditching their in-house currencies (i.e. Microsoft giving up on Microsoft Points for PC apps), it seems that this will only add another level of confusion to the buying process for customers. It may be easier to come straight onto Amazon and buy things instantly, but did we really need an additional motivator for late night (usually alcohol-infused) impulse purchases? The 1500-coin mouse pad next to me says no.