If you only shop Amazon via the website, you've been missing out. Its Android and iOS apps offer some cool features that you won't find elsewhere, like image recognition tech, Alexa virtual assistant integration, and food delivery. It's not quite a shopping utopia, but there are a lot of unique and interesting ways to explore the store. Let's show you the highlights.
Potent search functions for Amazon's cavernous inventory: The Amazon app has not one but five built-in ways to help you shop: a search bar that makes suggestions as you type, and the Alexa virtual assistant, who you can talk to like the Google Assistant or Siri. You can access her by tapping on the microphone button in the upper right (which may appear as a stylized circle on some devices).
Alexa is handy because she can search not just for items but also for categories, like "best-selling non-fiction Kindle books" or "best-selling point-and-shoot cameras." Or you can just ask her to tell you when your packages are scheduled to arrive. This isn't a tool that you'll find at other online stores. However, we do miss the Google Assistant's ability to process text input as well as speech input.
You may also notice a camera icon next to the Alexa button. This opens up two more helpful tools: Amazon can scan barcodes or even employ image recognition to identify an item and determine if you can buy it from them. We tested its image recognition with several objects on our desk. It identified the exact can of compressed air we presented, and the specific version of a reference book. When we pointed our camera at a tape dispenser, the app showed us listings for Scotch tape, but not dispensers. We recommend good lighting and a large empty surface to get the best results.
Last but not least, object recognition can also work on still pictures and screenshots that you've taken on your phone or tablet. We had a screenshot of a late-night TV host giving his opening monologue, and Amazon suggested a variety of color-coordinated men's clothing. With a screenshot of Eva Longoria in a scene from Desperate Housewives, the app also correctly identified the actress and the type of clothing she was wearing, so there's also facial recognition as well as product matching. Taken as a whole, Amazon's search functions are so good that it's almost scary.
Centralized notifications: Mobile notifications can be difficult to keep under control, and the Amazon app helps here by having a section dedicated to its messages. You access it just by tapping on the bell icon in the upper right. So if you're getting flooded with texts, calls, and email, you can refer to the app itself to see if you've missed a deal or a delivery update, and your messages are listed in reverse chronology. The bell icon might not appear on all devices; if it's absent, the hamburger menu in the upper left should have a shortcut to take you to the notifications section.
Location-specific service awareness: If you let the app access your location, it can populate the hamburger menu with location-specific services. For example, when looking at this menu while in San Francisco, CA, you'll see a shortcut labeled "Amazon Restaurants." Here, you can order food for delivery from within the app, like Grubhub or DoorDash, because SF is one of the cities where Amazon offers this service.
And because this delivery service is built into the Amazon app, you don't need to create yet another online account and manage yet another password. As long as you're already an Amazon customer, everything is set up for you in the app's background.
The app's home page remains a little messy: It must be a daunting task to present a useful front door for a website that sells so many different things. You get oddities even when the door is populated with semi-personalized points of entry, like when a Deal of the Day presents hair curlers to a customer who's never ordered anything like that. Further down the page, we found a section labeled "Innovative technology for under $50," but that's so broad that it doesn't actually help narrow things down. Then there's Trending Deals, which covers the whole gamut of products, from DVDs to shoes to Bluetooth earbuds. Does that help to connect the customer to something they'd like to buy?
Then sections like "Gift ideas for grads" and "Hot new tech" are mixed into the feed alongside far more targeted sections like "Inspired by your shopping trends" or "New for you," making the app's intent unclear. By mixing window shopping with recommendations filtered for regular customers, the front page ends up feeling like a shotgun approach, rather than a crafted experience.
While the Amazon app isn't ideal for casual browsers or window shoppers, its search tools border on science fiction. Being able to talk to an AI or identify something (or someone) from a photo helps elevate the shopping experience above what you'll get from competing stores like Target and Best Buy.