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Amazon's Fire Phone: A Compulsive Shopper's Worst Nightmare?

Firefly is a feature that basically turns real life into an Amazon shopping cart.
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While the Amazon Fire Phone’s 3-D screen might be grabbing all of the headlines, it’s a feature called Firefly that probably has company executives most excited.

Firefly basically turns real life into an Amazon shopping cart. See something you like? Press the dedicated Firefly button, snap a photo and it recognizes the object. It will provide you with relevant information and, when applicable, a link to buy the item on Amazon.

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“Typically, we think of impulse purchases happening in the store, like when you see a candy bar at the checkout counter,” Pradeep Chintagunta, a professor of marketing at the University of Chicago, told NBC News. “Here, Amazon is essentially bringing the store to you.”

Not that Amazon is hurting in the sales department. In 2013, the online retailer recorded $74.5 billion in sales. But anything that “makes it even easier to buy” stuff on Amazon is a worthwhile investment, Chintagunta said.

Of course, the image-recognition feature has to actually work for Amazon customers to start using it. At the Fire Phone launch event in Seattle on Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claimed that it could recognize more than 100 million objects, including barcodes, books and even works of art.

If it performs as advertised, it could boost impulsive purchases on Amazon — although probably more effectively in certain scenarios.

When people are at home, they can simply buy things in their browser. While in brick-and-mortar businesses, sometimes Amazon customers engage in “showrooming,” where they find a product in a store and then check to see if it’s cheaper on Amazon. (Most brick-and-mortar stores are not exactly fans of this behavior).

But for the most part, when people are actually in stores, they are more likely to just buy it there, Alexander Chernev, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, told NBC News.

Price is not the only reason people make impulse purchases. They also like the convenience of seeing something and being able to purchase it right then. Amazon could push people toward buying stuff they see in brick-and-mortar stores with their phones, Chernev said, but that is not the norm right now.

“It might make the experience easier, and because it’s easier, it might become more commonplace,” he said.

Smartphone buyers have not had a chance to test it out in the real world. But it's easy to imagine this very lucrative scenario for Amazon: Someone is at a party. They see someone wearing a pair of cute shoes. With the push of a button, the shoes are on their phone and then soon being delivered to their house. (To sweeten the deal, Amazon is temporarily including a free year of Prime membership — which includes free two-day shipping — with the purchase of a Fire Phone).

“The urge is the strongest at that point,” Chintagunta said of the moment that somebody sees a product that they like. “If you wait for a while, rationality sets in, and you might say, ‘Do I really need these shoes?’”