I'm A Product Guy.

Good, bad, great, all products can be better.

If you’re like me, you slightly obsess over every product you come across and are either impressed and inspired by an amazing experience or deeply disappointed by a total miss.  I can’t keep this ecstasy or misery to myself so there’s usually some rant which follows.

Amazon’s Other Showrooming App

With Amazon Flow, featuring visual search, the world is your showroom, but does it work well as a stand-alone app?

My wife and I bought a house last year and are saving to start a family; so in 2015, it’s less frivolous spending and no impulse buying.

Four months into 2015 and my resolution to be more discerning shopper was relatively still intact.     

That is, before I rediscovered Amazon Flow, which essentially has a “point and impulsive buy” button for everything around me.  Great plans to spend less: blown. up.   

It started with a simple price-check from my pantry; it couldn’t hurt to look, right?:

Coconut Oil:

  • Point the App,
  • 1-Click Buy,
  • Arrives in two days.   

Whoa! way too easy.  A quick lap around my kitchen, pointing the Flow at whatever seemed low: sea salt, cumin seed, green tea, coconut water, almonds: Point the App, 1-Click Buy, 1-Click Buy, 1-Click Buy… viola! our kitchen pantry was transformed into a virtual grocery store and in two days, prime, it would be replenished, thanks to Flow.


Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world; their core competency has always been frictionless shopping and Flow follows this arc: 1-click “buy now;” Amazon Prime; subscriptions all orchestrated to quell the tiny voice “do I really need this?” 1-click, boom! too late, arrives in two days.

Twinkling blue stars mean it's working

Twinkling blue stars mean it's working

It Twinkles!

Flow is a barcode reader without the barcodes.  With the camera lens in your phone, Flow uses image recognition to find products; which can be added to your Amazon cart.  You’ll know it’s working when the twinkling blue stars hone in on the product, then add it to your running list; all within seconds.  

Killer App

With Flow, Amazon didn’t just port their website over to an app; they reimagined their core offering as if it were something new; addressing the must have user experience in a smaller screen while concentrating on first class use cases around the native camera for image recognition and search.  Flow is focused, stripped down to the essentials.  Flow is for Hunters, and not Gatherers.  Buyers, not Shoppers.  When we just want to place an order and move on.  


Released the same year as Snapchat, Flow has a similar camera-as-homescreen, stripped down user interface which gets out of the way of making a purchase.  Every overt interface element is thoughtfully placed to optimize purchase or dismissed to the pulldown list on the righthand side, a.k.a the “gutter.”   


If you don’t “buy now,” there’s History, which is an editable list of your previous visual searches.  This is helpful for accessing previously detected products, when they’re no longer in view.  Or, to haunt you until you buy them.  


I like Flow; I prefer it to the Amazon App, it’s stripped down, un-bloated, devoid of nonessentials.  However, it’s been around since 2011 and hasn’t exactly caught fire.  Last year Flow’s image matching tech was added to the Amazon app so good luck guessing Amazon’s next move.  

In the meantime, I prefer the streamlined version, because I’m a hunter, I know what I want; am in and out, done.  Which is it for you; full version in all its browsing glory or stripped to essentials in Flow?  share your thoughts in the comments.  

Amazon should focus on judiciously added a few features to Flow; but overall keep it lean and clean.  

“Out Of The Box” Detection

Flow should be able to detect products, literally, out of the box.  Image recognition tech is improving, by the quarter, and Flow should keep up with this pace.  To illustrate, take these Ted Baker boots.

I bought them on Amazon and they’re still available, but Flow had no recognition of them.  


I’ve worked with image recognition tech that could match these two images, quickly, with a high degree of accuracy.  So come on Amazon, let’s step it up here.  In fact I should be able to snap a pic with flow and run an image search for similar products - after all Amazon practically invented the collaborative filter (product suggestions based on similarities).    

It would be cool to snap a stealthy pic of, say someone wearing a great jacket across the street, and instantly pull it up with close matches, ready for the Amazon cart.

Buy It Again

What’s keeping Flow from standing on it’s own?  Quite simply, my “go to” list of purchases.  And while the image detection tech is being improved, voice search would be helpful.  But that’s it.  Adding these two features will bring balance to the app; between excess and essential features.  Here’s an enhanced layout, elevating Flow to stand alone.

The enhanced interface moves the text search to the top middle and pulls history out of the gutter onto the left side; with voice search accessible from the pulldown list (which of course is hidden when not in use).  


The History icon opens the same list views but includes an “Orders” view containing all previously purchased items, so I can easily reorder - especially when items are out of sight.  This Order history should pull from my full Amazon purchase history - amazon.com as well.


The hybrid, physical storefront with ecommerce fulfillment, has been a “next year” thing for  over 15 years.  With its Flow technology, Amazon skips ahead to fast fulfillment of the world around us; even using the storefronts of others to order their fulfillment.  Sure we can obsess over usability, performance, and design details; but let’s be clear:  It’s an app that will frigg’n take a photo of a product then have it to you in 24 hrs; the future is now.   


Amazon has a good first version product with Flow, but since its 2011 release, they haven’t exactly set the industry ablaze with new features.  Amazon should add some basic features to breakout Flow as truly stand-alone for all ordering use cases; as it has the potential to be better than their “full version” mobile app.  Until then, the hybrid storefront with ecommerce fulfillment is still a year away, for yet another year.