See an item in a grocery store or general merchandise store and want to add it to your shopping cart if Amazon has it cheaper? Amazon’s new “Flow” app allows you to do just that.

MarketWatch reports You can now shop on Amazon by taking photos.

Amazon’s app for iPhone this week added “Flow,” an image recognition tool designed to allow consumers to add a product to their shopping cart by merely pointing their phone’s camera at it.

Flow—as its name suggests—aims to make it as seamless as possible to shop. MarketWatch carried out its own “showrooming” with the app. Scanning a three-bottle package of the hair growth serum Rogaine, Flow immediately found the item on Amazon for $43.85, 30% cheaper than the $62.99 price in a Duane Reade store. Russell Stover Pecan Delights—a heart-shaped box of chocolates just in time for Valentine’s Day—were $8.99 online, $1 cheaper than in Duane Reade. “This trend will take some time to grab hold,” says retail analyst Jeff Green, “but it’s an ingenious idea.”

Flow can scan millions of items, according to Amazon, but it won’t work with older iOS versions and it’s not yet available on Android. The feature will replace “Snap It” as an image recognition search feature on the Amazon iPhone app (iOS7 and above). iOS5 and iOS6 customers will still be able to use Snap It for visual product recognition. “Scan It”—which just scans bar codes—remains unchanged. However, Amazon pitches Flow as something to use at home—rather than as a price-comparison tool in stores. “In some ways, Flow replaces the kitchen white board or chalk board where most families keep their growing list—only this way you don’t accidentally forget the shampoo,” the spokeswoman says.

Retail experts are divided over its usefulness. “This strikes me as the lazy man’s shopping robot,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of “If you can’t even type in the name of the product, give me a break. Most people in a supermarket are not going to take a picture of a Cheerios box, and then leave the store to go to a competitor where it’s 20 cents cheaper,” he says. And it’s not appropriate for big ticket items like TVs, he adds. It’s rather gimmicky, according Rick Singer, CEO of, but he still regards it as a good tool to compare prices at your local store to those on Amazon.

Big Deal or Not? 

The CEOs of ConsumerWorld and GreatApps panned the idea. To be sure, few care if they can save a dime on a box of cheerios. But saving nearly $20 on Rogaine is very worthwhile.

Dworsky says it’s not appropriate for big ticket items like TVs.

He is not looking far enough ahead. If it isn’t appropriate now, it soon will be, perhaps incorporating the barcode features of “Scan-It”.

Deflationary Pressures

It’s easy to visualize where this technology is headed: An app where you click on a product and all the places where you can buy it turn up, complete with prices, Amazon, or wherever.

The price deflation pressures of such a device are immense. People like bargains, and if they think a store is not offering enough of them, they will shop elsewhere.

That’s a big deal. And it will further pressure price margins across the board at all box retailers.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock