Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Amazon Dash Button

A few days ago, Amazon announced Dash Button, one of the more unique entries into the wearables market. Except in this case, your house wears it. And it probably wears many of them.

My initial reaction on our internal Yammer UX group was, “Wow. WOW.” And that's still where I am at with it. Amazon Dash Button is an amazingly high-tech device and yet, it's really just a button with a logo on it. But that's just the UI. Amazon Dash is much, much more; think about what happens.

  1. You notice you're out of Mac and Cheese again (must be Tuesday, right?)
  2. You press the Dash Button conveniently located on your pantry shelf.
  3. An order is placed wirelessly, over the internet, to Amazon.
  4. Amazon receives the order and fulfills it.
  5. The item is shipped to you in 2 days, if you have Amazon Prime.
  6. You're eating Mac and Cheese again. No judgment here.

I simplified much of the process above (logistics and commerce over the internet are not trivial) but you get the gist. With Dash Button, Amazon is making a smart play to abstract away the entire activity of shopping. It's a big and bold bet, and it has some really great attributes.

Every week, I do the majority of the grocery shopping for my family. And truth be told it's not a bad task; Target has done a great job of stocking the groceries we all need. But it's a process. My wife and I plan out our dinners for the week. We then make a list based on what we have on hand and what we need. I have to then find time to drive to the store, park, shop, make sure I've got my Target app at-the-ready, load up the car, bring it all home, unload it, and all the while ensure that my son isn't terribly bored with this whole big giant process.

That's not to say shopping can't be enjoyable. Many shopping experiences are designed this way: think Apple, and how they elevated shopping and servicing technology. Think Target, and how they improved buying arguably boring things. Think Nordstrom, and their top-notch customer service. These companies add their value in the actual process of shopping, this old ritual of ours.

Amazon is looking to add value in removing that process altogether. What do we give up? We give up choice. We can't shop across multiple stores. We can't see the thing before we get it. And in exchange, I don't have to go through the whole shopping process in order to get more coffee beans or mac and cheese. I don't have to think about it.

One more thing to call out: there are no brand choices, at least not at launch. I'd guess this is simply to get traction on the whole thing. But if Cottonelle isn't your toilet paper of choice... you're out of luck. For now.

This problem notwithstanding, the Dash Button shows a keen, keen understanding of how and when people think about shopping. I applaud Amazon for its efforts, and yet I'm not sure if this will work. It's a big shift.

Halfway Home

More so, it's clear that the Dash Button is a hold-over until we have thoroughly useful devices in our homes hooked up to the internet. I'm not talking about the Bluetooth Toothbrush, but rather, things like a dog food container that knows when you're low and automatically orders a new bag. Or a coffee maker that knows you're going to be out of beans Thursday based on your prior coffee habits and puts in an order for you on Monday.

There are a myriad privacy, financial, and class concerns that we must address. But the core of the idea is sound. For years, we've been stuck in front of screens in an effort to have more tech in our lives. Health and fitness monitors, wearables, and things such as Amazon Dash are a laudable effort to reconsider the role of the screen in technology.

On a broad level, we're shifting away from keyboard + screen combo and witnessing technology move into other spaces. Smartphones were the harbinger, and we're in this first, ugly, awkward era of wearables and integrated technology. But we're going to get there, and I applaud Amazon's efforts to push the envelope.

Just let me know when there's a Dash Button to order a new pair of jeans.