Martin on Mobile Apps

About this Blog: All smartphone and tablet apps, all the time. Veteran mobile tech journalist James A. Martin offers mobile app reviews, news, tips and more on a variety of major mobile platforms, with a focus on iOS and Android.

Martin on Mobile Apps

Amazon 'Flow' for iOS Makes Buying Stuff Easy — but not Necessarily Cheap

The new Flow feature in Amazon's iOS shopping app lets you quickly find and buy household items as well as books, DVDs and other stuff using your iDevice camera. But CIO.com blogger James A. Martin found that Amazon's prices weren't always competitive.

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Amazon recently updated its iOS app with a new feature: Flow, a cool and convenient new tool that makes it super easy to use your iPhone camera to buy household staples and other stuff. (The Android app hasn't been updated with the Flow feature as of this writing.)

But are those staples less expensive than what you’d pay at your local grocery or drug store? To find out, I used the Amazon app to shop for seven items I routinely buy, including peanut butter, moisturizing lotion, garbage bags, and PAM non-stick spray.

Using the Amazon app’s Flow feature, I scanned each item or its barcode, one after the other. I did this both at home and in my neighborhood Safeway or Walgreens store. In nearly every case, the app did a great job of finding the items in Amazon’s product catalog.

Amazon Flow feature iPhone

As you scan, Flow creates a "history"  — in essence, a shopping list. With two taps, you can add an item to your cart, buy it now, or add it to a wish list.

Amazon’s prices were lowest for two out of seven items, and one item (a box of Splenda packets) was priced comparably to the same item at Safeway. Otherwise, Amazon’s prices were higher. In the most extreme example, a 16-ounce jar of Earth Balance Natural Peanut Butter with Flaxseed (Creamy) was $12 on Amazon compared to $6 at Safeway.

I’m not aware of another app that makes buying, or at least "showrooming," a wide variety of products quite so easy. Example: The Apple Store iOS app lets you scan accessories using your device’s camera and pay for them with your iTunes account. However, you must be inside an Apple store for that feature to work, and the scope of products available for purchase is far more limited.

Amazon seemingly sells everything in the world. And often, its prices are extremely competitive. But I’m not sure the Flow feature’s convenience makes up for the price differences I found, at least with household items. 


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