Scan an image and buy item online

An app has been developed to let shoppers flipping through retail fliers purchase items that catch their eye using image-recognition technology.

The iOS app Pounce allows shoppers to scan images they spot in print media with their device's camera, then buy the item online directly from the retailer running the advertisement.

"We are able to match an image with an actual product available online," said Mr Avital Yachin, chief executive of BuyCode, which developed the app, one of a growing number that uses image recognition to bridge the physical and online worlds of e-commerce.

"Our vision is to allow purchasing of any product in any print ad," he said, adding that the firm plans to expand to catalogues, magazines and billboards.

The Pounce app recognises products that its retailing partners, which include Staples, Target, Toys "R" Us and Ace Hardware, sell online.

After scanning an image, the app displays the item's price and shipping cost, then allows shoppers to make the purchase directly from the retailer.

Other companies such as eBay and Amazon have apps that use image recognition to identify objects such as books, cars and even clothing to help shoppers find similar items in their online marketplaces.

"The potential of image recognition lies in its ability to determine the make and model of any item in the world, especially those that consumers are otherwise unable to identify," said Mr Steve Yankovich, the vice-president of Innovation and New Ventures at eBay.

eBay has experimented with adding image recognition to its eBay Fashion and eBay Motors iPhone apps. With eBay Fashion, for example, users can upload an image and the app will suggest items that have similar colours, styles and fabric.

Its RedLaser app for iPhone and Android phones allows users to take photos of items and shows similar items available for sale at retailers online and locally, which eBay says fosters its main mission of partnering with retailers, not competing with them.

Amazon's app Flow, for iPhone and Android phones, lets users use the camera to identify a product sold on Amazon and get such details as its description, reviews and video or audio clips.

The company says the app can recognise packaged goods with distinguishable features such as books, DVDs or even items such as candy bars or a box of cereal. Users can then read reviews and purchase them from the online retailer.

But Mr Yachin said it will be some time yet before consumers can identify everyday items such as clothing on another person.

"The broader vision of recognising real-world objects will take a little longer," he said, adding that the technology relies on a large database of product images.

Pounce is free and available in the United States, with plans to expand it to Canada and Europe. Amazon Flow is available only in the US and is free, while eBay Fashion is free and available worldwide.