Amazon has launched a new visual search capability for its mobile shopping app called Part Finder, which allows users to take a photo of a screw, bolt or other type of fastener, identify it and search for it on Amazon, according to a TechCrunch story.
The computer-vision technology behind the feature, which can identify at least 100 types of fasteners, was created by Partpic, an Atlanta startup that Amazon acquired back in 2016, the report stated. It is now available in the iOS version of Amazon's mobile app.
To use the feature, a consumer places a penny next to the fastener for size comparison, taps the camera icon in the search bar of the mobile app, then follows instructions for how to position the camera to initiate an accurate scan of the item. The user can also enter other details to help Amazon identify and search for the item in its parts catalog.
Image recognition and visual search are becoming increasingly important capabilities for retailers. Many shopping journeys begin in the search bar, and shoppers often want to find something they may not be able to completely identify. The reality is, sometimes consumers don't know exactly what they're looking for, even when they know it by sight.
Part Finder's proposition is that this is especially the case when consumers are working on a home improvement project or assembling furniture at home. In that case, shoppers might know they need a screw but be unsure of exactly what size.
That could make Part Finder a feature that helps Amazon build its competitive case against the Home Depot's and Lowe's of the world. The e-commerce giant hasn't been as disruptive in this retail segment as in others, although it has been making a stronger impression of late, according to first quarter sales reports. While screws and other small fasteners are not necessarily sold as big ticket items, the feature can help Amazon become more relevant to DIYers and others who would typically run out to the nearest Home Depot or hardware store when they need those items.
Amazon has also been working in the area of visual search for a while now, as it began offering its image-powered Flow app feature for product identification several years ago. Many other companies have been working on similar technology. For example, Slyce developed visual search technology incorporated into Walmart's Hayneedle app last year. Target (with the help of Pinterest), eBay and others have also pursued the technology, sometimes with different aims in mind. Use cases will likely continue to evolve, but Amazon definitely has an interesting one in mind with Part Finder.