Announced today, Amazon Dash Button is a branded single-purpose button you stick somewhere to press when you need more of a specific product, like Charmin toilet paper or Tide detergent.
[Because it came out the day before April Fool's Day, many people thought it was a prank, one of those fictional products tech companies love to release each year on April 1. Wasn't it Arthur C. Clarke who said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a tech company's April Fool's joke”? Something like that. April 1 in the tech world is like the entertainment world's red carpet, a ritual of dog and pony show and savage critique. We all know our parts. It's already begun, it seems like 80% of them are from Google. 20% time may be dead, but even 1% time from some fraction of a lot of computer engineers is one of the more powerful matters on Earth.]
On the one hand, the Dash Button is built off of some of Amazon's strengths, much more so than others they've tried. It is dirt simple, almost like one of AWS's primitives but in hardware form, and it's meant to make shopping easier, something they've always tried to do, from reducing shipping prices to 1-click shopping and onwards. Short of having products magically order their own replacements when you're close to running out, it's about as easy as it can be to replace a frequently used consumable. It is exclusively for Amazon Prime members, another perk to throw under the umbrella of that subscription, and I'm a huge fan of subscriptions a business model.
Dash Button ties in to Amazon's customer experience strengths, bypassing its weaknesses. When many people say they don't like Amazon's UX, what they usually mean is Amazon's UI. And yes, I agree, Amazon could really use more design leadership and skill on that front. The Dash Button doesn't have any visible software UI, though. It's just a physical doohickey, and it looks okay. I can't speak to the sensation of the button as it depresses, but I look forward to a detailed discussion by John Siracusa on some future episode of ATP.
[Perhaps the greatest return on investment thing that Amazon could do, in my opinion, is hire a design expert, have that person report directly to Jeff, and give that person final say-so on all major UI decisions. I've often said that who reports directly to the CEO is a tell for what a company values, and as far as I know design doesn't have a seat in Amazon's C-suite.]
Beyond UI, though, are many often overlooked elements of UX, especially in retail, and on those matters Amazon is world class. Customer service, packing, shipping, payments, returns, replacements. No company more reliably and consistently ships you stuff you order as quickly or reliably. And, if something goes awry, you just know they'll make you whole, no questions asked, unlike many other companies. It's that repeated execution that's made them one of the most trusted brands in the world. The Dash Button plugs directly into that whole incredible logistics network.
I hate the term Internet of Things, it is just an awful piece of tech jargon, but the Dash Button is one of the more practical of the early entries into that space. I know customers are only supposed to be able to ask for faster horses, but that doesn't mean they want to pay $35 to change the lighting in the living room to purple from their smart phone. It means they just want to get places faster.
Or in this case, they want faster horses delivering their stuff. As Amazon knows better than almost any company, the customer demand elasticity curve is highly sensitive to shipping costs and shipping time. I thought Amazon was joking when Jeff went on 60 Minutes to unveil their early testing of drone delivery (I thought at the time that some other planned reveal fell through so they scrambled the drone experiment as a last minute replacement since the segment had already been teased in CBS promos), but their continued testing there shows how much they know that being able to ship products in near real time is the next rung in Maslow's retail hierarchy of needs. They are being attacked by horizontal players in that space (companies that just specialist in delivery, like Instacart and Postmates, for example), and they will continue to press forward with their vertically integrated strategy. May the best player win; I'll be on my sofa waiting.
On the flip side of the ledger, the Dash Button feels like an intermediate way station on the journey to some more elegant solution. I suppose it's possible this is the endpoint for shopping replenishment in the home, but I personally don't want a bunch of branded buttons stuck all over my apartment. I can see why a brand would love a button that locks a user into their product line, but it's possible for a technology to be too primitive, too low level.
What level of abstraction do you settle in at? That's always the trickiest of product decisions, and it depends a lot on the context. Screen size, how you input data, app launching modality, all of that matters. The app Yo was widely ridiculed released on the iPhone, but there's the germ of something fascinating there. On something like the Apple Watch, with its extremely limited screen size and input modality limitations, being able to send a slight vibration to your loved one's watch with one tap, perhaps with an accompanying sticker? Just to let someone know they're in your thoughts? Powerful. I will never underestimate the power of ambient intimacy. Loneliness is one of the two grand eternal problems in tech (the other is boredom).
My bet is still that some solution with a higher level of abstraction and functionality will win out in this replenishment shopping space, but for now, the Amazon Dash Button is an intriguing first crack at it. I just need one for Harmless Harvest Coconut Water. I'm always running out, and because it's not heat pasteurized it's perishable so I have to buy it locally (delivery services like Instacart don't deliver perishables). I but it from CostCo for the discount (that stuff is not cheap), but I hate fighting the madding crowds of CostCo. I brave that capitalist jungle, though, because I am as addicted to Harmless Harvest as most people are to coffee.
Give me a Harmless Harvest Dash Button, and, if you're really evil, program it to work only occasionally, on some random interval, and I'll be pressing that thing like a rat in a Skinner Box mashing on the response lever.