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Press to Pay: Amazon Dash Button Dispatches Diapers, Razorblades, Gatorade, More

Rafe Needleman
Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
Yahoo Tech

Running low on Izze sodas? Tide detergent? Olay lotion? A new Amazon product, the Dash Button, will give you a one-click way to get a fresh shipment of what you need, stat.

Press here for diapers. (Photo: Amazon)

The Dash Button is a physical button: a highly branded device about the size of your car’s wireless key fob. It orders what’s printed on it. If you have the Gillette button, for example, it will order razor blades for you.

What if you lose the button in your junk drawer? Amazon doesn’t want you to do that, so the buttons have adhesive on them, and hanging hooks. You stick the Gillette button inside your medicine chest; the Tide button on the side of your washer; the Huggies button on your diaper pail. When you’re running low, hit the button. A white light illuminates, then turns green to indicate that your order has been placed.

If you press the button while an order is already in transit to you, Amazon does a smart thing: It does not place a duplicate order. It sends a note to your phone saying that the extra order was not processed.

Who gets the Button?

Amazon’s Dash Buttons will be free to Amazon Prime members. If you have an order history that includes a product for which there is a button (there are 17 brands represented at launch), Amazon will ask if you want to apply to get a button. When you order one, you can also order two additional buttons for other brands.

Unlike the Amazon Dash, a product-ordering gadget for groceries that is available only to Amazon Fresh customers (Fresh is Amazon’s grocery delivery service), the Dash Button is being tested with the larger universe of Amazon Prime customers.

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But the rollout at first will be “relatively slow,” an Amazon rep told me. You “might” get an invite to try a button, depending on your ordering history. Over time, of course, Amazon hopes to roll out the Button to everybody.

The guts of the Button

The Button is battery-powered and is supposed to work for “years.” When it dies, you get a new one.

The device connects to your home Wi-Fi to communicate to Amazon. To set it up, you use the Amazon Shopping app on your phone. On an iPhone, the app uses ultrasonic tones to configure the Button for your WiFi network. Android phones use a different method. In either case, once your device is set up, it no longer needs your phone to operate.

The Dash Buttons are branded with specific companies, but they are customizable to an extent. You use your phone’s app to tell the Button what particular product you want to order. For example, the Huggies button can be configured with the type and size of diaper you want to order. You can, of course, change the order as your child grows. But the buttons are locked to a brand: You can’t use your Tide button to order another kind of detergent. Nor can you set up a button to order a product not already on the program. 

(The brands onboard at launch are: Bounty, Tide, Gillette, Olay, Glad, Clorox wipes, Cottonelle, Huggies, Gerber Formula, Lärabar, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Maxwell House coffee, Gatorade, Izze, Smartwater, L’Oréal Paris, and WellPet pet food.)

Beyond the Button: Devices that order for you

Amazon’s Dash Button is built on a new Amazon cloud service called the Dash Replenishment Service (DRS). It allows manufacturers to build automatic reordering into their devices. At launch, four companies are announcing they’ll work with this:

  • Brother, which will make printers that can reorder ink when they run low.
  • Brita, which will come out with a water carafe that reorders filters after they’ve been used a certain number of times.
  • Whirlpool, which will upgrade some of its connected washers and dryers so they can reorder detergent or dryer sheets. (Presumably, you have to tell the machines when to reorder, although I suppose they could also be configured to order after a given number of cycles.)
  • And Quirky, which is releasing three products in its “Poppy” line, with auto-replenishment built in: a baby formula dispenser, an automatic pet-food dispenser, and a fancy pour-over coffeemaker (it will reorder beans, coffee filters, and its own water filter).

Amazon is making the DRS widely available and hopes that other manufacturers get onboard. A rep told me that by the fall, manufacturers will be able to put DRS in in products with only “10 lines of code” and pretty simple hardware.

This new Quirky coffeemaker will order beans and filters for you. (Photo: Rafe Needleman/Yahoo)

And, yes, you’ll be able to turn off auto-ordering. Every DRS product has to connect to an Amazon account, and you can turn off auto-replenishment from your Amazon smartphone app. You can also cancel an automatic shipment as soon as you see the alert on your phone that an order has been placed on your behalf.

Insanely convenient helpmate? Or Evil capitalistic overlord?

Many years ago, I had a car that displayed an alert on my dashboard when it was time to replace the windshield wipers. I remember writing in a column at the time something like, “So why isn’t there an ‘Order wipers’ button on my dash?”

This is that. This is the convenience that we want: a simple way to take a chore off our hands. It’s handy, it’s easy, and repeat costumers of consumable products will probably love it.

On the other hand, it’s also a terribly efficient way for big brands, and for Amazon, to lock customers in to their products and services, and lock out competition. If I have a Tide Button, it becomes much more unlikely that I’ll ever buy Wisk, or ever get my detergent from anywhere but Amazon. 

The Button makes it that much harder for new brands to challenge old ones, at least using old rules. What are the new rules? Maybe the new coupon you get in the mail will be a Dash Button for a product you’ve never tried: First press is free, you know. The next will cost you.

Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service, likewise, will help change the relationship that product manufacturers have with their customers. Having an ordering system built in changes hardware from a thing you buy (and then feed) to a manifestation of an ongoing delivery you’re essentially subscribing to. Like a Keurig or other “pod” coffee machine. Or a smartphone.

Will DRS lead to cheaper up-front costs as manufacturers shift their profits to repeat purchases of consumables? That could well happen. Will this lead to customers saving money over the long run? That I doubt. The more customers are locked in, even a little, to consumable purchases, and the more businesses are able to stretch out and mask the total costs of their products, the more likely it is, I believe, that consumer prices will rise.

Dash Button looks extremely convenient. But I believe this convenience will come at a price.

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