Mobile shopping is no longer just visiting a retailer's website and buying something from your smartphone or tablet. It's evolved to make use of your device's camera. Here are three examples at the forefront.
1. Scan barcodes to comparison shop.
Many apps for the major retailers let you scan a barcode on a product's packaging with your smartphone's camera. The app then pulls up details about the product and shows you its price (which is handy if there happens to be no price tag on it). You can use these apps to comparison shop. For instance, you can scan an item in a store with a competing retailer's app to determine which store sells it for less. The Amazon app is notorious for being used this way.
The ShopSavvy app is designed for comparison shopping by scanning barcodes, but it presents results from about 40,000 stores, including Amazon, Best Buy, Macy's, Newegg, Target and Walmart.
(Editor's note: Business News Daily is owned by Purch, which also owns ShopSavvy.)
2. Snap a photo of an item to shop for it online.
Visual search technology helps you find products using your smartphone camera or by uploading an image. Over the last two years, it's been implemented in the apps of some retail and online stores. You simply snap a photo of an item, and these apps try to identify the product, pulling up details about it and letting you buy it.
The app for fashion retailer ASOS does this through its Style Match tool. For example, you can snap or upload a photo of a shoe you might like to add to your work wardrobe, and the app will present shoes that you can buy that are similar in color and style (if not the actual shoe in the image). The eBay app offers visual search directly from its search box – just tap the camera icon in the box to access it. It searches eBay's listings for visually similar items that are for auction or sale. Other popular apps using this technology are Amazon and Pinterest.
3. See virtually what something would look like in your office.
Augmented reality is the current bleeding-edge technology for mobile shopping. The main use for it is enabling you to see what a piece of furniture or other item would look like in your office or other space before you decide to buy it. In its simplest implementation, you take a photo of your environment and an image of the item in question is placed over it. A more advanced version can place a 3D graphic model of, for example, a desk in your new office as you view it through your smartphone or tablet screen, with your device's camera streaming the video footage in real time.
The Amazon app recently added augmented reality for this use. Its AR View feature lets you see what an item that Amazon sells – whether a large item such as furniture or a smaller one like a kitchen appliance – may look like in your office or home. It does this through a real-time video stream captured by your mobile device's camera. So you can place a 3D graphic image of a desk in your empty office and walk around it, seeing this virtual desk from all angles on your device screen. If your smartphone or tablet is technically capable, you can access this feature in the Amazon app by clicking the camera icon on its search bar and selecting AR View.
Another retailer presently using augmented reality to help you visualize its products through your mobile device is IKEA, which released IKEA Place for both Android and iOS. Target's, meanwhile, isn’t an app, but a feature of the mobile version of Target.com called See It in Your Space.