Is Amazon’s New Part Finder Feature Better Than Your Local Hardware Store?

published Jul 24, 2018
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(Image credit: Jonathan Weiss)

A new in-app feature from Amazon will now help you identify the type and size of any missing screw, bolt, nut, nail, or washer for your DIY projects. But is it better than heading to your local hardware store?

The new feature, called Part Finder, allows you to scan a piece next to a penny and it will analyze the type and size of hardware you need to buy. Fast Company describes it as “a DIYer’s dream”, but I’m left with a little sadness that even more people won’t be visiting their local ACE anymore. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment when asked about the effects the feature would have on local business.

For me, some of my best moments of DIY education in life have come from gently encouraging conversations with veteran hardware store owners—all of whom, in my experience, have an encyclopedic knowledge of parts and how to use them correctly that I have a hard time believing a smartphone camera-enabled app can match. (Not to mention their comedic ability to intervene when they suspect a Pinterest-fail or DI-Why waiting to happen).

Since I’m a localist luddite when it comes to these types of technological advancements, here’s an explainer from Fast Company about how the new feature works:

“Part Finder’s superpower is the sheer specificity with which it can do the job. It can tell a SplitRivet from a WingNut and a flat head from a pan head. It can identify over 100 types of fasteners in all, ‘which represents thousands, if not millions of parts,’ according to Amazon. But crucially, Part Finder lists its own conclusions as tappable buttons. That means if Amazon gets something wrong—for instance, suggesting a Phillips head on your screw when you know you need something else—you can just tap that option to keep on shopping.”

While this might sound extremely useful to most people, I can’t shake this quote from one of my favorite hardware store owners. Mr. Peavey, owner of the now-closed Peavey’s Hardware store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, had this to say in 2001 when I interviewed him about his thoughts when the area was getting its first Wal-Mart:

“My motto has always been, ‘If we don’t have it, you don’t need it. And customers have always told me that if they can’t find it anywhere, they can find it at Peavey’s. [Big chains] hurt business, but only because some of my customers let them. Instead of coming here first, when they know I’ll have what they need, they come here last.”

Some might say that’s the price of progress, and if you’re a productivity and efficiency minded online shopper who is already obsessed with the convenience of Amazon, Part Finder might be your new favorite thing. Me? I’ll be at the hardware store.