Thanks to the Internet, shopping has become increasingly convenient. Amazon and other Internet retailers have extended this convenience to household items, infringing on the usual territory of grocery stores. Amazon Prime has made same-day shipping a reality in certain areas; Prime Pantry allows for savings on grocery and household items, and if you live in an areas served by Prime Now you can order simple items like paper towels and milk and receive them within two hours for free (or one hour for $7.99 extra).
It's difficult for Amazon to improve on that sort of delivery time, so where does the next innovation come from? It's in the ordering process. Say hello to Amazon Dash Buttons, a small device that allows Amazon Prime members to order a specific item with only the push of a button.
At approximately two inches long and one inch wide, Dash Buttons look a bit like flash drives. The front couldn't be simpler; it contains one large button and the logo of the associated product. There are currently more than 150 dash buttons available, including major household grocery items like Puffs tissues, Gatorade, and Doritos chips. Health and beauty products, child/baby care materials, and pet care products are also available.
Dash buttons come with an oval of adhesive on the back to allow it to stick to whatever surface can help remind you of the need to re-order — for example, the Tide button on the washing machine or the Cottonelle button above the toilet paper roll. (You can buy a Trojan condoms button, but you’ll have to figure out where to stick it.)
Each Dash Button costs $4.99, but you are given a $4.99 credit upon the first use. They operate through the Amazon app on your smartphone. A simple connecting procedure allows the app to recognize the Dash Button. Use the app to set up which product you want the Dash Button to order when it is pressed (for example, the Campbell's Soup Dash Button could be set for Chicken Noodle). For a recent sale in which Dash buttons sold for 99 cents while still offering a $4.99 credit, the best-sellers were for Cascade dishwashing detergent, Charmin toilet paper and Tide laundry detergent.
Once the button is pressed, an amber light will flash during processing and then turn green when the order comes through. Should the order fail to go through, a red light would flash. A notification will be sent to your phone that the order was placed as a protection against inadvertent orders (such as your Dash button being found by your playful two-year old).
As a further precaution, multiple orders are prevented unless you override the default setting to allow them. A new order cannot be placed until the old order is delivered, in case both you and your partner notice you’re running out of detergent. (Like he’d ever notice!)
All conveniences come with a downside, and Amazon Dash Buttons are no exception. The simplicity of Dash Buttons comes at the cost of price comparison.
Dash Buttons do not give price information when they are pushed, leaving you at the mercy of price fluctuations. You can set up the button to have Amazon send text-alerts on price changes whenever a button is pushed, but the need to check and review prices undercuts the single-button timesaving convenience.
Amazon Dash Buttons represent the first step toward automated household logistics, applying the principles of store inventory management to the home. Picture the day when your refrigerator places orders for you when you are low on milk or cheese. How about an automated pantry?
It remains to be seen whether America needs (or wants) that level of convenience. The state of Dash Buttons in three to five years should go a long way toward giving retailers the answer. In the meantime, Amazon and their retail partners are getting plenty of consumer data to study.