The new Flow feature in Amazon’s mobile app epitomizes just how aggressively the retail giant is pressing its technological advantage to win the market for everyday merchandise. Need more ketchup or dish soap? Just aim your camera at the empty bottle. Suddenly your whole house is an Amazon showroom.
In a way, Flow is gimmicky: Most of this stuff has barcodes you could already scan at home, too. But every step Amazon takes to make buying smoother equals one more reason to skip a trip to the store. Says WIRED’s Roberto Baldwin: “It’s all part of the company’s goal to take you from ”˜I need that’ to ”˜I bought that’ in less than 30 seconds.”
That’s especially threatening to a store like CVS, which sells consumer packaged goods ”” commodity products that everyone else stocks, too. CVS can’t compete with Amazon on selection or price. It can’t even compete on consumer desire to see and feel before they buy: Do you really need to hold that tube of toothpaste? The only advantage left is getting something right when you want it ”” what retailers call the “top-off.” The closer Amazon gets to on-demand ”” imagine combing Flow with same-day delivery or vending machines ”” the more CVS loses its last justification for maintaining physical stores.