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Amazon makes play for greater influence over in-store shoppers

The Flow Powered by Amazon app for Android

In a reflection of mobile’s growing importance for the in-store shopping experience, Amazon is bringing its augmented reality bar code scanning app Flow Powered by Amazon to Android devices for the first time.

Mobile phone owners are increasingly using their devices while they are in stores to assist with their shopping, whether it is to find a similar item at a lower price, read product reviews, find coupons or find items that are not in stock. By bringing the app to the Android platform, Amazon is enabling it to reach a broader audience, giving the app the potential to influence more shoppers while they are in stores making a purchasing decision.

“There is a battle going on between the ecommerce players and the multichannel retailers to win over the customer while in the store,” said Dan Lowden, vice president of marketing at Digby, Austin, TX.

“With over 40 percent of smartphone owners now using their phones in the store, third party or ecommerce bar code scanning/price comparison apps have had and will continue to have an impact on retailers as ‘showrooming’ becomes more common-place,” he said.

“However, we do see retailers go on the offensive against showrooming apps as they are creating their own branded apps that also leverage bar code scanning for in-store product look-up but also include a lot more like sending their customers time and location based offers through push notifications from the app.”

Amazon did not respond to press inquiries.

QR code functionality added
The Flow Powered by Amazon app was launched on the iPhone late last year.

In the Android version, users can scan bar codes on the items on store shelves or simply point the device’s camera at a book or DVD and get an augmented reality overlay showing product information.

Users also see how much an item costs on Amazon and can click on buttons to purchase the item directly from Amazon. The app also provides user reviews from Amazon and audio previews.

The app can be pointed at a variety of products, including books, toys, video games to see pricing, availability and other product information.

Developed by, a subsidiary of, the latest version of the app also recognizes QR codes, providing users with access to other forms of content such as Web sites.

“I think the app may be more popular on Android than iPhone,” said Brennan Hayden, vice president at Wireless Developer Agency, East Lansing, MI. “If this type of app has a bigger market than it has found on the iPhone, it is going to be on Android.”

Bringing the app to Android will offer Amazon certain benefits, such as providing important user data.

“With Android, Amazon will be able to tell what the demographic of a user is based on the devices that are being used to purchase from the app,” Mr. Hayden said. “That will yield unbelievably valuable information to Amazon.”

Addressing showrooming
Specialty retailers have an opportunity to address showrooming by offering strong in-store customer service and even arming store associates with mobile devices so they can better assist shoppers with their needs.

For example, PacSun has given sales associates tablets so they can help a shopper find a product online that is not available in the store or to find a coordinating accessory (see story).

“The specialty retailer can embrace the bar code scanning app’s model and take advantage of it more than general merchandise stores can,” Mr. Hayden said.

Retailers can also enhance their online store experience to meet the needs of in-store shoppers who are inclined to go online.

“Many retailers are working hard to enhance their online store experience so that users that prefer to get a better deal or go to the online experience while they are in the store will encounter a really good online store,” Mr. Hayden said.

There are several bar code scanning apps on the market, with one of the more popular ones being RedLaser from eBay.

Bar code scanning apps such as Flow Powered by Amazon can make it easier for shoppers to engage in shopping activities but they also often directly compete with the bricks-and-mortar retailers’ efforts to engage the customer.

To address this, retailers such as Best Buy, Cabela’s and others are also incorporating bar code scanning readers into their own branded apps.

“There are many top retailers today who have successfully integrated barcode scanning, as well as many other in-store marketing and location-based features, into their own branded mobile experience,” Mr. Lowden said.

“Cabela’s and Maurices have both done a great job implementing both bar code and QR code scanning features into their apps to allow their customers to see additional product information and shop directly from their popular shipped catalogs,” he said.

“Brands who take advantage of the significant opportunity mobile has created will drive store traffic, more effectively engage with consumers in the store, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. This will help them create a stronger position to help the combat the ecommerce players.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York