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Amazon takes showrooming to next level with image recognition

Amazon is tightening its grip on showrooming with a new image recognition application feature that cuts down on the number of steps it takes for a consumer to find and buy a product.

The new image recognition feature is called flow and builds on a previous bar code-based app technology that let consumers scan UPC codes on products to then shop them from Amazon. Amazon’s newest iteration of app-based showrooming comes at the same time that the company is trying to cozy up to retailers with a possible mobile point-of-sale service.

“The promise of augmented reality generally and image recognition software specifically has long-been there, but, until now, it has not been something many consumers have experienced,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston.

“Google Glass was an attempt at this same play,” he said. “Amazon, on the other hand, has the ability to leverage this technology, in their app, to boost the ease by which consumers can showroom in physical stores, and then buy from Amazon. If they do it right, this could be very impactful.”

Mr. Kerr is not affiliated with Amazon. He commented based on his expertise on the subject.

Improving showrooming
Amazon is betting on the growth of image recognition and augmented reality over the past few years to cut down on the number of steps involved in showrooming.

The feature is only available in Amazon’s iPhone app.

To use flow, consumers point their mobile device at products that they want to buy on Amazon.

The feature works best when the product that a consumer wants to scan fits into the full size of the screen, such as packaged goods or DVDs.

Once the feature recognizes the item, the app scours Amazon’s inventory to find it.

Consumers can then click on the recommended products to buy them from Amazon or add them to a wish list. The product pages can also be shared via SMS, email, Twitter and Facebook.

Flow features a history feature that saves all scanned items into one place.

Amazon originally made quite the splash when the company rolled out its price-comparison app with bar code scanning in 2010, helping to kickstart showrooming (see story).

“We will continue to offer bar code scanning as it is a popular feature of simplifying search is one of the most important ways we can improve the mobile shopping experience,” said Julie Law, spokeswoman at Amazon, Seattle.

“This integration was specifically designed to make replenishing things in your home that much easier,” she said.

Another screenshot of flow

Retail draw-back
At the same time that Amazon is loading its shopping app with new features, the ecommerce giant is also reportedly pushing for a bigger in-store presence with a mobile point-of-sale service that will leverage the company’s Kindle tablets with loads of shopper data (see story).

The mobile POS effort will require Amazon to build strong relationships with retailers, who traditionally are not keen to work with Amazon.

As retailers increasingly roll out in-store initiatives that embrace or stop price comparisons, the threat of showrooming is shrinking for retailers.

However, the Amazon app update makes price comparison and shopping quicker, which will likely fuel some additional interest in showrooming.

The new app feature also underscores the challenges that retailers have in working with Amazon that may stunt the company’s chance at the in-store experience.

“Amazon might be trying to court brands that have their own stores with a POS offering, but I doubt any true retailers will let the Amazon fox into their henhouse,” Mr. Kerr said.

“Smart retailers will try to fight off the threat Amazon poses to their business by scrambling to deliver their own commerce-enabled apps, engaging in price matching promotions and even add image recognition and other features that allow them to capture the entire consumer experience, versus letting Amazon customers use their locations and physical products as real world showrooms for goods they purchase online, from Amazon,” he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York