Walking through our local Fred Meyer store, we approached the wall of toasters with a gleam in our eyes, holding an Amazon Fire smartphone.

fireflyIntro_deviceWith one long push of the button on the left side of the device, the Fire phone sprang to life — using its camera and special software to instantly recognize the Black & Decker 4-Slice Toaster on the shelf, and then quickly find the same product in Amazon’s catalog.

Three clicks later, we had used the phone to buy the toaster from Amazon for $39.99 — $10 less than Fred Meyer’s price — to be delivered to our doorstep in two days with free shipping, thanks to the one-year Amazon Prime subscription offered with the device.

This feature is called Firefly, and it’s one example of the disruptive potential of Amazon’s new smartphone, scheduled for release this week.

Our experiment in rapid-fire showrooming was part of our broader review of the device, which sells for $199 with a two-year AT&T contract.

See the video above to see more from the Fred Meyer experiment, with GeekWire’s Taylor Soper using the Fire phone to recognize and price-check a wide variety of products.

The Firefly feature does more than recognize products. It also can also identify music, and specific scenes in television shows, in addition to tricks such as recognizing a url or phone number using computer vision. Third-party apps can also integrate with Firefly in a variety of ways — letting you click to purchase or download a song, for example.

In our testing at Fred Meyer, the Firefly was accurate the majority of the time, although there were a few times when it misidentified a product. We found that it was most reliable when scanning the barcode, although there were times — as with that Black & Decker toaster — when the image recognition was so good and fast that it surprised us.

We scanned everything from toys to sporting goods to home appliances and even cereal. In many cases (but not all), the products were available for less on Amazon, and eligible for Amazon Prime two-day shipping.

See our broader review for much more on our experience with Amazon’s Fire phone.

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  • mikep

    Not sure you need a dedicated phone would the app be more than enough? Also why didn’t you look at the sales items all around what made you pick those items? Finally, isn’t the point of Amazon not to leave the house. If the item is within a few dollars I’m buying it at the store and taking it home, not waiting 2 days.

  • guest

    You don’t mention the ethical issues of ‘shopping’ at Fred Meyer when you have no intention of buying anything there. Perhaps you could do a followup with an ethicist and an economist. How does this affect the economies of running brick and mortar stores? Would the store be justified in kicking you out for trespassing? Should they have?

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      I had my Fred Meyer Rewards card ready in case anyone questioned us. :)

      In all seriousness, we did think and talk about that, and you’re raising important questions here, so thanks for bringing it up. It will be interesting to hear what other people think on this thread.

      And for whatever it’s worth, Taylor and I bought lunch in the deli before leaving.

    • Ethicist

      It doesn’t. Yes. No.


      • guest

        You’re clearly not an ethicist. A real ethicist would be familiar with the concept of hona’at devarim. Here’s a link you can go read if you’re too lazy to google it: https://truthpraiseandhelp.wordpress.com/2009/10/30/retail-therapy/

        Notwithstanding your ignorance and the comments of other posters here that there’s nothing wrong with window shopping, many Jewish ethicists consider window shopping unethical. Maybe other ethicists do too. And this takes it to another level.

        • Ethicist

          Perhaps you are reading way into this.


    • Economist

      Paying less money for goods and services is rational. It doesn’t. Yes. No.


      • guest

        You’re clearly not an economist. A real economist would know that economics isn’t limited to the customer’s perspective.

        Fact: When stores have fewer customers they are less likely to stay in business. That’s econ 101.

        Amazon is already undercutting their prices making business economics harder for them. Have you ever gone into a store and spent time with a salesperson and than bought it online for cheaper? Even if you think this is entirely ethical, you’re naive if you think you didn’t cost that store anything. Think about it next time you’re showrooming at Borders.

        • Guest

          Borders is dead. You’re boring. Do you do anything else?

    • Washington Irving

      You don’t need to be ready to fork over cash for an item the second you walk into a store. This would be similar to window shopping, which I would hardly call unethical.

    • brianjedwards

      The ethical issues work both ways. Brick and mortar stores engage in many practices that strike me as unethical, such as claiming things are on sale by jacking up the indicated list price and then marking it down to the regular price. Amazon and online search just level the field.

      • guest

        J C Penny tried getting rid of the discounts and it almost put them out of business. Maybe they just screwed up how they did it but is it’s easy to say they SHOULD change it and hard to actually make the change work. Look at the fake free phones that everyone but Tmobile still has.

  • EvilAmazon

    I try not to support either the bricks and mortar Walmart or the online Walmart, Amazon.

  • Allen

    How is that different from Bing Vision, just that the retail option is limited to Amazon.com?

  • thecapitalist

    I view Todd/Taylor’s actions as another form of comparison shopping, except, maybe tied to Amazon (because of Firefly). From a retailer perspective, I would think the stores would rather have you in the store looking at products than not in the stores at all. And sometimes, I wouldn’t mind paying $10 more to get a product right away and other times, I would prefer to wait & save $10. Also, having been in the store, the odds are higher that I will spend on some other item (like Todd/Taylor’s deli experience) instead of just using FH as a showroom for Amazon.

    • John FX

      Exactly. The purpose of this app is to do research about an item. When I’m in a brick+mortar I already get out my phone and search for the product on Amazon just to compare prices and more importantly, _reviews_! The most important shopping feature that Amazon offers is customer product reviews, it can tell you within a few seconds whether something is worth buying. Even if the price is cheaper on Amazon, I’ll often pay a little more at the brick + mortar to get it quickly as long as the reviews are good. This feature just makes it so much easier, I love it.

  • http://geekwire.com Tricia Duryee

    I think this is a super interesting debate: What if Amazon could get the product to you in the same day AND it was cheaper than the item in the store? Is it the consumer’s responsibility to do the ethical thing? Or, is Amazon to blame? Or, is getting the best price just being a smart shopper?

  • http://eric.jain.name/ Eric Jain

    Perhaps Amazon could offer to pay shops a referral fee, if an order for an item is placed from within a shop?

  • GodsAdvised

    Fred Meyer hates these guys right now

  • Elsa

    with rewards rebates, fuel discounts and all the special coupons they send me, I still think I get a better overall deal at Fred Meyer!

  • gregt

    Still, you would need to buy the new phone and after your year of Amazon Prime is up, buy a subscription for that, too. I’m not sure those expenses make it cheaper than buying directly from the store. PLUS, what about returns? Only some Amazon items offer free returns, and some items can’t be returned at all.

  • Washington Irving

    I didn’t realize the Ballard Fred Meyer was “ICONIC” LOL.

  • Chris

    There’s nothing stopping Fred Meyer or any other retailer from building and marketing an app that does the same thing tied to their own online catalog.

  • Guest

    Lots of good points people have brought up as far as ethics and economics is concerned. Ethically, going into a store and checking out other retailers’ prices online (via phone, tablet, etc.) shouldn’t be considered wrong. Brand or company loyalty has taken a backseat in a lot of customers’ priorities in favor of other criteria such as convenience or simply getting the best deal. With that in mind companies like Amazon and Fred Meyer are different because they offer different ways for people to do their shopping. At this point in time, I can’t see people favoring one method of shopping to another (online vs. “brick and mortar”). It’s like comparing apples to oranges. I guess that’s my economic view. By no means do I think I’m an expert in either subjects.

    Side note: Fred Meyer sells AT&T phones and probably the Fire Phone as well. Also, the Ballard location is somewhat “iconic” because of its location compared to other FM stores, it’s design, and also because it also does one of the highest sales volumes in the whole Kroger enterprise. Although I do not think that the author knows any of this…so why is the Ballard FM iconic?

  • Mark R

    Identifying printed text and “actioning it” without typing is handy. I did this frequently while on vacation using a free IOS App (VisuCaller) to call numbers I saw in printed text, surf web addresses and get map directions. Scanning an object for the only purpose of finding things to buy on Amazon doesn’t make me want to switch to this phone. I think I would have a bad feeling knowing I paid for a phone that has a hidden agenda to get more money from me to buy stuff from Amazon.

  • Carly

    I really like Fred Meyer. I also order from Amazon from time to time.

  • ducki3x

    My feeling is that the arguments for (from the Economics crowd) and against (ditto Ethics) aren’t really the right approaches to consider this problem. On the economics side, the extremely basic, short-term answer (“you’re getting the best value!”) is where a lot of the discussions seem to stop, without digging into the complex fiddly-bits (what is the actual definition of value, beyond just price? what are the long-term consequences for retail shops and the communities around them – accessibility, employment, etc – if a large percent of the market shops in this way?). Ethics just feels like a dead-end to me, since you’re under no obligation to buy when you step into a store, and I don’t see a compelling ethical argument against more traditional forms of comparison shopping.

    This seems to be more of an issue around social contracts & norms, which is way less satisfying than the options above, because there’s much less of an opportunity for a definitive, line-in-the-sand answer. Putting in the personal effort to price check multiple stores feels perfectly reasonable to me (and, I suspect, to 99% of the store owners out there); standing in an aisle of one store and doing that same comparison shopping in real time (and using a feared competitor to boot) feels exploitative and rude. When you strip away the personal effort required (beyond pushing a button) and do it so blatantly, it changes the perception of the act.

    The closest analogy I can think of would be if a friend asked you to an event that you were only sort-of interested in; if you say you’ll need to check your calendar later (and then decline once you have), you’ll get a different reaction than you would if you started looking for different, more interesting social options right in front of their face. Of course, a store isn’t a person that can get its feelings hurt, but we could view its financial stability as a kind of indicator of emotional/physical health (and it’s still an organization OF people, and they’ll all have their own emotional reactions, both individually and collectively).

  • http://www.bellevuefineart.com/ panacheart

    I’m not sure that more commoditization will benefit us. Ethical issues aside, as others have already pointed out, the extreme commoditization in our society has led to appalling quality all around, and fewer choices, not more. Sure, you can get things cheap, but they’re all made in China, and they’re all made like shit. I’ve bought things as simple as a broom that broke in a day. Sure it was cheap, until you realize the real cost of extreme commoditization. We no longer value the things we have, everything is replaceable, and the working class is having a harder time finding jobs that pay living wages. Even the Chinese are protesting over low wages.

    Competition is good, but price isn’t always the bottom line. What I like about Amazon and ebay is that now I can buy things that I couldn’t before as I’ve got a world of retail at my finger tips. What I don’t like is that it’s killing businesses, and eventually when are choices have been reduced then prices will go back up again. Amazon has gone from revolutionizing shopping to being grossly predatory. A phone that takes pictures of things around me and basically spies on me to sell me things is so over the top and out of the question I’m at a loss for words.

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