Local retailers now have another reason to be worried about Amazon: The company’s new smartphone, the Fire Phone, makes it easier than ever for shoppers to compare prices and buy something for less on the site.
The Fire Phone comes with a feature called Firefly that lets people snap photos of items they see while shopping and quickly find out how much those same items cost on Amazon. The company says that Firefly will be able to recognize 100 million different objects. In a demonstration of Firefly last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos showed how the Fire Phone could quickly detect a particular book, a jar of Nutella, and dishwasher detergent, among other items.
Some tech analysts say the Firefly tool could bring the practice of “showrooming”—when people shop for things in physical stores and then buy them for less online—to a whole new level.
"If [the Fire Phone is] successful, it’ll give a huge boost to showrooming," Gartner analyst Tuong H. Nguyen told The Verge. "Other phones are physically capable of doing this and wrapping an app around it. The main difference is Amazon has the e-store to tie it together."
Already, the practice of showrooming seems to be growing, particularly for certain types of products such as toys and health and beauty products, according to a recent analysis by mobile app company ShopAdvisor. ShopperTrak found that U.S. retailers had half the foot traffic during the 2013 holiday-shopping season than they did just three years earlier suggesting that people were shopping online. (Local retailers can beat Amazon's price advantage by creating a valuable in-store experience.)
While Amazon’s new Firefly tool does seem worthy of concern, it’s too early to worry. Some tech experts have predicted the Fire Phone won’t become a household gadget like Apple’s immensely popular iPhone. They point out that the Firefly price-comparison tool—which Amazon has touted as one of the main highlights of its new phone—isn’t that revolutionary. People can already download Amazon and other shopping apps that let people scan barcodes and compare prices online.
As PCMag.com writer Seamus Condron points out: “Does Amazon really think people will fork over $200 or $650 for something they can do already with the Amazon app on their existing smartphones?”
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