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4/3/2015
07:06 AM
David Wagner
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Amazon Dash And The Internet Of Buttons

Amazon's new button is definitely a win for them. But is it a win for anyone else?

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Look out, folks. The button wars are about to start and consumers will be the only casualties -- well, them and perhaps good taste.

Amazon announced the new Amazon Dash Button on Wednesday. It's basically a button that allows you to order anything at will at the push of a single button. Amazon thinks you'll enjoy ordering certain consumables (pet food, detergent, perhaps basic groceries) through a single WiFi-connected button, rather than opening an app, going to your computer, or using the existing Dash feature to scan it in. The company is probably right, but holy smokes, this thing has problems for everyone but Amazon.

Dash is an adhesive fob that can be programmed with a specific order, which you can then push to reorder at will. Pictures show Amazon branding the button to a specific detergent, but you could just as easily attach it to anything. During Mobile World Congress, I covered a company that had the same concept for ordering pizza.

Is this is a sign that the Internet of Things (IoT) is going mainstream? I think it is a sign of the Internet of Things jumping the shark, and jumping the Fonz while he's jumping the shark as well.

Let's say, just for a minute, we're too lazy to go to the computer and use one-click ordering. And we're too lazy to use Amazon's subscription service for consumables. And we're too lazy to open a phone app. And we are even too lazy to ask our Amazon Echo to order something for us. What are the chances we're going to have the right button for the right product in the right amount programmed for the stuff we're too lazy to get? It isn't as if the button reads your mind. It has to be attached to a specific order.

(Image: Amazon.com)

(Image: Amazon.com)

The problems are pretty clear to see. To get past our laziness, we're going to need a lot of buttons. Sure, one button attached to your washer to order detergent is no big deal. A second attached to your fridge when you want pizza is no big deal. A toilet paper button in the bathroom actually makes tons of sense. You can even imagine a drone delivery in a TP emergency. But then imagine adding a coffee button, a milk and bread button, and maybe a button for a book series you are reading, or even a button for potato chips. Heck, why not a button for when you need buttons? And what about when Walmart and Target get in the button business? Will you have double or triple the number of buttons, depending on which retailer offers the best prices? Am I starting to press your buttons?

[ Maybe one day we'll even have a goat button. Read Goats, Now Available from Amazon. ]

How many consumables are you 100% brand-loyal to, versus shopping on price? Do you feel like getting locked into a brand of detergent, regardless of price, just for the ease of a button?

From Amazon's point of view, the button would reduce the friction between the moment you think about buying something and the moment you buy it. Sometimes pushing that button is going to be a win-win. And maybe you can manage limiting the number of buttons in your house to only the win-wins. You still lose.

The problem is that Amazon (or another company, if Amazon is somehow really altruistic about this) is going to make money on you from the other end, too. When Amazon gets into the button business, it essentially becomes the arbiter of product lock-ins. If Tide is a partner and Cheer isn't, and you want your button and don't care about detergent brands, you'll take the Tide button and stop buying Cheer. Fine. Then Cheer loses a customer and realizes it needs to pay to play. They have to enter the button war.

The only winner in the button war is Amazon. Whether it goes the exclusive route, or the widespread partner route, it controls your products and your price. You can't easily change your products or your order, or look for price. Brands can't compete on price to get your business. Amazon might even sell buttons to the highest bidder. You're locked out of the basic laws of supply and demand for the convenience of a button.

I have no doubt that Amazon will allow you some flexibility in programming your button. You will be able to change quantities and products using an app. You know what? You can already buy using an app. Why manage a button with an app when you can manage actual buying with an app? Amazon even has a much fancier existing button concept called Amazon Fresh that allows you to scan household products you want to buy. Instead of 100 buttons, you have a scanner and a button. What makes more sense?

(Image: Amazon.com)

(Image: Amazon.com)

As I said, there are moments where this is win-win. But the areas where this goes dead wrong are far more numerous. We haven't even gotten into what happens if your kid or your pets learn to hit the button (Amazon knows if the button is pushed a million times, but how about once a week?), having to deal with button replacement, the load on your home network, a refrigerator full of buttons showing off to your friends what brands you like, the potential that these buttons become a security risk, and myriad other issues. All this could happen because one-button purchasing or subscription services were too hard for you.

Amazon might have a winner on its hands. But for my money, this idea is a total loser for the consumer. But the pizza button? That I'll take. What do you think?

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/13/2015 | 12:21:53 PM
Re: Amazon Dash And The Internet Of Buttons
@zerox203- Well, you are right, of course, that even the most tech phobic person won't be scared to use this. And this might be designed as a "gateway drug." But personally, I think it is a leap to think that someone who wouldn't use the app is suddenly going to use it because they pusehed a button. I think people who like the button won't want to swtich. And the button has economic risks associated with it that I just don't like as a consumer. We'll see, though.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2015 | 2:32:30 AM
Re: Amazon Dash And The Internet Of Buttons
Like many, my first reaction to this was that it might be an April Fool's joke. The presence of the actual company logos on the buttons just seems hammy, the obvious problems with accidental or multiple presses are in your face, and, yes, the sheer idea of how lazy it makes americans seem allows for obvious jokes. A lot of those problems are adressed in the initial launch announcement, though - the button allows for a specific configuration that will not take a second order until your first one arrives (it sounded like this would be optional in case there are some items you'd want to order a lot of), and I got the impression you could order from non-partnered companies (IE there will be generic buttons that you can tie to any order). As for laziness... well, you got me there.

I, too, don't see how it's necessarily more convenient than a phone app for a lot of cases, but I think in harping on that we're missing an important point here. Amazon does have other services like this. There is overlap there. None of them have grabbed headlines like Dash already has, though. This has the average, still-tech-averse american talking. It puts IoT in the spotlight, and Amazon at the center of that. I'd certainly bet they have a smart enough marketing department for that to be part of the plan, and to use it to boost the signal of those other services. Remember that EC2 started as a sort of experiment for Amazon (different ballgame, of course). There are some cool uses here for everyone, too - the first thing that came to mind was compressed air. I hit the button as soon as I open my last can, and I know I won't run out - this is a good example because it's very overpriced at small stores.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/6/2015 | 6:38:36 PM
Re: The economically thriving consumer
I definitely get the Fresh idea. Subscribing to specific consumables makes total sense with an app. And with their cool scanning wand. It it the button carving the extra tenth of a second off with a lack of flexibility I don't get. The great thing about mobile stuff is that it usually adds flexibility. This takes it away. that said, I know people who love this idea. I may find my house is full of buttons in another year.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/6/2015 | 6:32:43 PM
The economically thriving consumer
There is an element of economic well-being to the pattern I describe. Not sure I am well-enough off to fit into it myself. But in San Francisco, I'm constantly seeing the Fresh trucks making their deliveries. They seem as common as UPS. So somebody is using them. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/6/2015 | 5:38:19 PM
Re: Amazon positioning itself as retailer of the future
@Charlie- I'm all for speed over cost, too. I certainly make that decision, but maybe I'm just not rich enough, I don't value my time in seconds but in hours. I am totally willing to order by Amazon rather than driving to get something. I don't need the split second the button saves me over the app. But, like i said, maybe I'm either not rich enough or busy enough.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/6/2015 | 5:16:52 PM
Re: Has Amazon really thought this one out?
@kimc509- Maybe we need a selfie stick button. We'll clearly be wearing ours out with all this extra time for them.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/6/2015 | 5:15:51 PM
Re: Limited
@ChrisMurphy- What if we could combine a button with a means of instant delivery. Like those old pneumatic tubes the bank used to use? If you could push a button and the coffee arrived freshly brewed in seconds through a tube, you'd want more buttons, right? :)
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
4/5/2015 | 8:00:45 PM
Re: Limited
You could use buttons or any number of subscription-based delivery options at major retailers online. I suppose the button can help you avoid the thought required to determine just how long a container of laundry detergent lasts in your household...
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
4/5/2015 | 3:35:43 PM
Re: Limited
Having a button for everything is not going to work. But I think Amazon is on to something in regards to learning more about consumer behavior here.

They want to study the art of the purchase more carefully, and I think this product really helps them to execute on that. 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/3/2015 | 3:04:54 PM
Amazon positioning itself as retailer of the future
At one time, no one thought Netflix needed to stream videos. What Amazon is doing is inventing new patterns of consumer behavior. With Amazon Fresh, Prime and now the Dash button, Amazon is giving customers the chance to reduce the time and attention needed to get simple purchases done. Amazon Fresh shows that consumers don't necessarily want to handle the fresh produce themselves before buying. Prime shows they're willing to pay a premium in order to get quick, free delivery. And Dash shows they are not all that price sensitive about laundry detergent and similar items. The consumers adopting Dash are the ones who've decided that time is more important than in-person shopping to save nickles, dimes and pennies. They may be foolish and candidates for lock-in, but they are what the next generation of shoppers in urban Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York looks like.
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