The new Amazon Fire Phone launched yesterday, and the internet is buzzing about whether this new device will be a hit or a flop. I believe that the Fire Phone is a significant milestone in the evolution of shopping. Retailers and shopper marketers would be wise to pay attention.
Amazon clearly is swinging for the fences. The announcement was rich in innovation. Unlimited free image storage, Free Amazon Prime, Dynamic Perspective, Mayday, Camera with Optical Image Stabilization, etc. Frankly, it’s been several years since an Apple product launch had close to that level of attempted innovation. The marketplace will ultimately decide if the features are compelling, but I’m particularly focused on what I consider the products most evolved feature: Firefly.
Firefly is a visual (and auditory) search system that turns the entire world into a shoppable catalog. It is activated via a dedicated button on the phone, and promises less than 1 second start times. I first wrote about the possibility of this experience back in 2010, Amazon has probably been working on the feature for at least as long. In 2010 Google launched Google Goggles, one of the very first mobile based visual search engines. In 2011 Amazon’s A9 group launched their Flow app which first enabled visual search specifically for commerce. Early in 2014 Flow became a feature of the mainstream Amazon app. We’ve also seen Image Searcher release the very capable commerce visual search tool, CamFind, in 2013. The Firefly feature in the Fire Phone raises the bar on all of them. With the ability to recognize over 100 million objects, text, bar codes, QR codes, you name it. Equally important, Amazon has already made an SDK available enabling other developers to leverage and extend the technology. Amazon has taken a major step to reduce the friction between desire and fulfillment.
Consumers are using their smartphone’s to help them make purchase decisions like never before, 43% of all time consumers spend on retail websites are from smartphones (Comscore). But at the moment, shoppers rarely conduct their transaction on the smartphone. I call this problem, the “Smartphone Conversion Gap.”
Apple tries to address this problem in their latest iOS version 8, by enabling shoppers to scan their credit cards via the camera, instead of having to type all their payment info into the phone. While that’s a helpful step, it falls far short of Amazon’s “one glance ordering”. Consumers are quickly going to come to expect this level of shopping ease.
I don’t expect this first generation Amazon phone to a be a huge consumer hit despite all its innovation. It’s FireOS (forked from an older version of the Android OS) has too many rough edges (no Google Play Store, no Bluetooth Low Energy), and I don’t believe a smartphone can succeed today with just one carrier (US consumers are no longer buying their first smartphone and picking their first data plan, as was the case back in 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone exclusively on AT&T). So the magic question is, if and when Amazon will make FireFly available on more widely adopted devices such as iOS and Android apps. Perhaps most exciting, what happens if Amazon offers Firefly as a Google Glass application?
We can all expect some funny new Firefly moments… “Friends don’t let friends drink and Firefly!” I imagine myself accidentally “Fireflying” my jeans every time I put my phone in my pocket, which is going to make for some awkward “butt-buying” conversations with my wife.
Back in the 2000’s we used to “Go Online” but today we simply always are online. Thanks to innovations like Firefly we are no longer going to “Go Shopping” because we’ll literally always will “Be Shopping.” Retailers are going to have to re-think what it means to be a retailer in a world of “always-on shopping.” One clear implication is that all our strategies need to assume a world of increasingly perfect transparency. In a world in which a consumer can learn everything there is to know about a product via a dedicated button on their phone, we can’t win by hoping shoppers won’t find out about a newer model or a better price somewhere else. Personally, I welcome the death of the old “shopper obfuscation” strategy employed by many marketers (secret prices, secret model numbers and fake sales).
As someone who largely makes his living helping my clients compete against Amazon, I have to tip my hat to them. Once again, they have raised the bar for all of us. I’m excited for the challenge… may the best shopping experience win!