April 30, 2015 | Emily Winsauer

The Amazon Dash Button: Flashy Mascot of a Changing Economy

Amazon Dash Button

Whenever a shiny new Internet-connected device is released, the attention is largely focused on how the user interface functions: What if my toddler hits the Amazon Dash button 500 times? Who wants hundreds of gaudy buttons stuck all over the house?

Of course, those are pertinent questions. But I can’t help but feel that a lot of people are missing the point.

Regardless of whether the delivery method succeeds or fails, it’s the underlying technology, and its potential for changing our day-to-day lives, that persists.

Released on March 31st, the Amazon Dash button has already caused a lot of debate, but it’s only the most recent release in a much larger campaign by Amazon—a campaign that attempts a new retail model.

As marketers, we’ll shortly be facing a very different landscape, one in which it will be more difficult to lure certain consumers away from their current solutions.

Cross-platform integration will discourage them from changing providers, but it’s also much more convenient to have laundry detergent magically appear at your doorstep.

Let’s dig in to Amazon’s setup for a moment.

Here are a few of the properties involved:

  • Amazon Dash – a barcode scanner/voice recognition tool for adding items to your Amazon Fresh shopping list from anywhere in your home
  • Amazon Fresh – a limited-availability home delivery service for groceries, Amazon.com items, and even local stores and restaurants
  • Amazon Dash Button – a Wi-Fi enabled single-product reorder button that works the with Amazon smartphone app
  • Amazon Dash Replenishment Service – the service Amazon offers to brands and manufacturers enabling connected devices to reorder consumables using Amazon’s authentication, payment, customer service, and fulfillment systems
  • Amazon Echo – a voice recognition tower that integrates with web services and Wi-Fi enabled home devices
  • Amazon Home Services – an ecommerce store for finding and purchasing services from verified local providers

Released in 2014, the original Amazon Dash tool is more impressive than the Dash button (though the button is available to far more consumers), but it didn’t receive anywhere near the same level of media coverage.

The Dash button may have been introduced as a gateway technology, or to gather data on usage habits—probably both. Technology this different from what we’re doing now may simply require a big, bright, obvious interface for wide adoption.

Amazon spokesperson Kinley Pearsall explained that the Dash buttons aren’t intended for every product. “Some people will think buttons will be a silly idea,” she said, “and it is a silly idea to think we will have houses full of buttons.”

Silly or not, the buttons are ideal for consumable household products, as Amazon’s choice of partners illustrates. For other types of products, they offer a range of compatible solutions, from Amazon Fresh to the Dash scanner (though only for a privileged few).

More importantly, Amazon offers the Dash Replenishment Service (DRS) to brands and manufacturers, encouraging the integration of Dash into product design and logistics planning. Major brands—Whirlpool, Brother, and Brita—are taking them up on it, either by including a reorder button or by measuring consumption to reorder automatically.

Enterprising small businesses (and even “hobbyists,” to use Amazon’s word) can also take advantage of the Dash system somewhat easily, at least according to Amazon. DRS will be widely available this fall, and can be implemented with as few as 10 lines of code.

If Amazon doesn’t sell the consumable goods that go with your device, don’t fret—you can change that with Fulfillment by Amazon, and then you’ll be able to integrate DRS with your connected device.

By presenting multiple interfaces and seamless integrations with their smartphone app and core technologies, Amazon paves the way for consumers. By doing essentially the same thing for partner businesses, they create the potential for world (or at least limited market) domination.

Okay… What Can I Learn from This?

Firstly, this isn’t a niche, it’s a new model. Amazon isn’t the only company pioneering the idea of a simple button interface, or a barcode-scanning-voice-enabled shopping list tool.

One example is IFTTT’s Do Button app, which assigns a task to a digital “button” and can work with everything from Google Drive to your lamps and thermostat. A more likely competitor is hiku, a handheld device that scans barcodes and takes voice commands to build a shopping list in a smartphone app. Sounds familiar, no?

The $79 device is worth a look, not only for user-friendly features like a fridge magnet, but because it will soon be able to “find items available for purchase online, show you the price (including whether it’s eligible for free shipping), and let you buy right from your phone.” The Kickstarter that funded hiku was launched in 2012, so they came early to this party and have clearly had time to strategize.

Secondly, it won’t be long before small and mid-sized businesses are including this type of service and integration. However accurate Amazon’s promise of “10 lines of code” is currently, they can’t be far off. For retailers of appliances and other in-home devices that work with consumable products, integration would require new or modified product designs. But what about ecommerce and software solutions that don’t require a device? It’s really not that hard to create a simple app with push notifications and a one-touch reorder button.

Finally, customers who enjoy look for deals will find weaknesses in the current Dash system. Right now it doesn’t accommodate cost comparisons, discounts, promotions, and other pricing issues very well. People who like to splurge one month and cut back another, or simply try new brands regularly, will likely be open to other solutions.

There are lessons for non-retail marketers, as well.

Whether your product or service promises simplicity and convenience or fun and excitement, make it as easy as possible for people to become and remain your customers. This has always been true, but the stakes are higher now and better technological solutions exist.

All marketers should look for opportunities to smooth the conversion path and payment process, such as one-click or recurring payment options. This may require different CRM solutions or security measures, but the customer experience difference is massive.

Once you’ve found a brand you’re happy with and can get it delivered to your home, there’s little incentive to change—which, incidentally, is the ultra-modern version of the “I’ll buy whichever brand gives me a coupon” problem.

But convenience isn’t consumers’ only priority, and it’s more important than ever to tap into the emotions surrounding purchase decisions. It may be hard to talk someone out of automatically reordering toilet paper or coffee filters, but those purchases are boring anyway.

When many of the mundane purchases are automated, marketers with fun or important wares to peddle have more of the consumer’s attention. Leverage the emotional potential of your products or services, but—and this is important—if emotions aren’t a natural part of your business, focus on simplifying and automating the process.

The most important weakness of the Amazon Dash button is that it “locks” consumers into one product (I mean, if exercising your free will by pressing a button instead of driving your ass to the grocery store counts as being “locked in”).

Thus, anyone who can embrace and promote consumer freedom will have an edge in an economy trending toward auto-pilot, whether by expanding on the Dash model or by doing something entirely different. Whether because of budget, taste, or sheer novelty, many people are drawn to flexibility more so than convenience.

So, what's the takeaway?

For me, the lesson here is to go ahead and shift gears in your brain. This isn't going away. Start operating in the new economy now, and you'll be the first kid on the monkey bars. We’re mostly seeing these challenges in retail and SaaS right now, but I think we all know which way this is going.

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Emily Winsauer

Emily Winsauer

As VIEO's content director, Emily Winsauer was responsible for content strategy for VIEO and our clients for over 5 years. She recently moved to Seattle where she's still creating compelling content in her new role.

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