Target plays for back-to-school crowd with image recognition app

Associated Press with files from Meagan Kashty

Have you ever ripped a page out of a catalogue hoping to track the featured item down in-store?

That’s the inspiration behind Target’s latest mobile app, In a Snap.

The free iPhone app was developed by Target’s Rapid Accelerated Development technology team and is being tested in the U.S. Its recognition software lets shoppers photograph ads to learn more about the product and bookmark items to be bought. Apps that scan codes, such as QSR codes and UPC symbols, are fairly common, but an app that consistently recognizes images or objects has proven more difficult. Retailers are anticipating competition from Firefly, a service Amazon is launching this week with the debut of its Fire smartphone. The company claims Firefly can recognize 100 million items. Amazon's current app for iPhones and iPads has a similar service called Flow that scans barcodes.

Target's app, on the other hand, is limited to recognizing products in ads. It is free to download but still in test mode, and it offers users the ability to send feedback to the Minneapolis retailer.

ComScore vice-president of marketing and insight Andrew Lipsman said Firefly is something rival retailers should keep an eye on, but consumer behaviour is not likely to change overnight.

"It's easy for technology to wow us, but it only matters as much as it is useful to the consumer,'' he said. ``There are plenty of examples of really cool technology, but if it doesn't become engrained in regular behaviour, it is not going to represent a sea change in e-commerce.''

Vying for the back-to-school crowd, Target's app is featured in ads for Target’s college-oriented Room Essentials brand in issues of Real Simple, Architectural Digest and Donimo. It also works for Target’s back-to-college catalogue and store signage in the new Target Express store opening later this week in Minneapolis. Depending on its success, Target said it will consider using In a Snap with more ad campaigns in the future. for their own part is making a play for students in Canada. Amazon student launched last today, offering students enrolled at universities and colleges unlimited two-day shipping free for six months, and discounts on items incluing electronics and kitchen appliances.

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