We’ve been hearing for years about how the internet would keep track of the refrigerator and let us know when we need milk and eggs. Now it is finally coming, as should surprise no one, from Amazon. The question is, will imposition of what we’ll call the Internet of Shopping be worth it to anyone?
Amazon started this approach with the Amazon Dash, a camera and microphone-equipped device that used a WiFi connection to order goods from AmazonFresh, the grocery store-by-truck being offered in selected cities. But the Amazon Dash Dot, for which an Amazon Prime consumer can submit an advance order, is both a more complex and simpler service.
The button is linked to a specific product, at the moment at least from a collection of massive consumer companies such as General Foods, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble. Stick the 2″ by 1/2″ Button to a surface. When you are running short on Tide Pod detergent, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, or Kraft Easy Mac Cups, the Button sends a WiFi signal to an iPhone, Android phone or a PC to generate an order to Amazon.
Once the Amazon Internet of Shopping device starts shipping in volume it is likely to do well. The Dash button will be easily available to anyone–it can be had by any purchaser for no cost and is likely to become popular.
Assuming that the button works as expected, and that seems like a realistic expectation, its real significant will be its economic potential. Amazon, starting with taking over the book business, has had a significant impact on a considerable variety of products.
In our house, we order lots of stuff from Amazon, at least enough that we get a delivery nearly every day. We’ve essentially replaced drug store purchases with Amazon, in large part because our neighborhood CVS is a pain of a store. But we–and by this I mean my wife, Susan, who does most of the ordinary shopping–still buy most basic home products in supermarkets. We want to buy our own fresh food (AmazonFresh is not an option here yet, though PeaPod or Safeway deliver) because we want to check out quality, availability and price. I personally prefer hitting the H Mart Korean store for produce and seafood.
The Dash button could make the Internet of Shopping a winner for both Amazon and consumer product makers. Amazon, of course, would increase its sales if the button succeeds. And product makers lock customers into the brand for which they have a button; it’s likely to get an order for needed detergent with Tide, dissuading customers from taking advantage of an in-store special. Products with firm customer loyalty for the brand, such as toiletries and cosmetics, are likely to do best.
I suspect the Internet of Shopping is likely to do best among relatively well-off families. Of course, the option only works when you have a WiFi connection at home, but that comes close to 100% when you eliminate the poorest and the oldest. But those relatively high in income tend to be longer on money, shorter on time and more interested in the ease generated by the Dash button than in saving.
The New Yorker offers a somewhat tongue-in-cheek view of the disadvantages of Dash button, “The Horror of Amazon’s New Dash Button” by Ian Crouch:
But what if there is actual value in running out of things? The sinking feeling that comes as you yank a garbage bag out of the box and meet no resistance from further reinforcements is also an opportunity to ask yourself all kinds of questions, from “Do I want to continue using this brand of bag?” to “Why in the hell am I producing so much trash?” The act of shopping—of leaving the house and going to a store, or, at the very least, of one-click ordering on the Amazon Web site—is a check against the inertia of consumption, not only in personal economic terms but in ethical ones as well. It is the chance to make a decision, a choice—even if that choice is simply to continue consuming. Look, we’re all going to keep using toothpaste, and the smarter consumer is the person who has a ten-pack of tubes from Costco in the closet. But shopping should make you feel bad, if only for a second. Pressing a little plastic button is too much fun.
That, of course, is a problem that only applies to the relatively comfortable. My guess is they are going to find Internet in Shopping too much of a helpful offer.