The future of smart home shopping or a novelty item no one's going to get around to using? The Amazon Dash (launched last year) and the associated Dash button (which is currently in testing) are both designed to make internet shopping easier than ever, though the jury's still out on whether these devices can make a real difference to our purchasing habits.
Both the Dash and the Dash button are currently only available to Amazon Prime users in the United States for now - and even then you need to request and receive an invitation in order to use them. But if these projects take off, you can expect to see them roll out across the rest of the Amazon empire, and they could soon be a normal part of everyday life.
What does it do?
Let's start with the Amazon Dash itself: You get a magic wand-like stick that can scan items in your kitchen or receive voice commands. The idea is, when you want to restock on groceries you scan physical products to save yourself the trouble of actually typing them into a web browser.
It sends back everything you've ordered over Wi-Fi, but at this point nothing has actually been purchased - you still need to go to a computer (or smartphone) to confirm your order and check out. It ties in with the AmazonFresh grocery service which is itself only available in a limited number of US cities.
The Amazon Dash button makes life even easier. In this case each specific button is associated with a specific product, like bathroom gel or kitchen towel. When you're about to run out of something, press the button and a new supply of whatever it is is automatically added to your online order.
Again, you need to confirm your purchase on a phone or inside a web browser, so you can't just keep bashing the button to bring a fleet of toothpaste-carrying couriers to your door. It's like the original Dash but even more simple to use.
Why would you want to use it?
The emphasis is obviously on convenience and ease-of-use when it comes to the Amazon Dash and its accompanying button. Trying to carry your laptop round while looking through your shelves isn't ideal, and if you switch to a smartphone it can be difficult to enter text and find the products you want.
Supermarket checkouts work with a lot of fast and friction-free swiping - you don't start writing out a list of everything you've bought when you get to the counter - and the Dash follows the same approach. Sure, you still have to log into the Amazon site on a laptop or phone to confirm your order, but at that stage it's just a couple of taps or clicks.
It also means you won't forget something while you're walking from the kitchen (or garage or bathroom) to the computer desk: the button in particular lets you reorder items while you're thinking about them and when you can see stocks are dwindling.
How does Amazon benefit?
It gets you spending more, first and foremost - if you don't have chance to forget that you're running out of washing powder then Amazon doesn't miss out on the sale. The ease with which the Dash lets you browse through your shelves is usually going to lead to a longer shopping list with Amazon, though of course shopping on the web makes you more likely to splash out on products you don't already have.
Both of these products are exclusives for Prime members too, so it gives shoppers more reasons to sign up for Amazon's premium tier and all that goes with it (faster deliveries, cloud content services, special discounts and so on). Ultimately, Amazon wants to get everyone using Prime and essentially subscribing to the Amazon ecosystem - that leads to more sales across the board.
If you have a Dash or Dash button in your home then you're also more likely to choose Amazon over your local supermarket or over a similar delivery system. By making the whole process as convenient as possible, it keeps Amazon's nose in front of the chasing pack.
What might come next?
Tech companies large and small are always on the lookout for the next goldmine in terms of products and profits, and right now the Internet of Things and the smart home are two strong contenders. From Google's Nest Cam to Apple's HomeKit, everyone wants to help make your home life more automated, and you can expect much more of this kind of kit to come in the future.
Don't forget about Amazon Echo as well, the all-hearing, all-doing speaker that can take your shopping orders via voice input and pipe them back to your Amazon account - again the order needs to be confirmed on the web but Echo knows what type of milk you mean when you say "order more milk" if you've ordered milk before.
The Dash and the Dash button (and indeed AmazonFresh) remain experimental projects for the time being but Amazon knows the smart home is a huge area of potential - and it has the infrastructure and reach to be able to take advantage.
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