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Amazon is about to take more of your money, and you won’t even notice

RIP, Dash buttons. Amazon has come up with far easier ways to complete transactions.

Amazon is about to take more of your money, and you won’t even notice
[Source Photo: Alexander Klink/Wiki Commons]

Amazon Dash buttons never seemed like a very good idea for anyone but Amazon. When the devices were announced on April 1st 2015, some suspected they were an April Fools’ joke. The buttons extended Amazon’s reach into your home in a way that seemed both silly and suspicious. These little internet-connected buttons, each assigned to a specific product, like garbage bags, let you order more with just a tap. The future of retail! But upon closer inspection, the buttons lacked transparency about pricing, and didn’t always guarantee you the lowest available price. They covered your house in logos. And how often do you really order new Burt’s Bees lip balm, anyway?

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On Friday, the company confirmed to Fast Company that it has stopped selling Dash buttons altogether. Old Dash buttons will continue to work, but the initiative as we know it is done.

Amazon isn’t saying much about why it’s canceling the buttons, but their failure may reveal something key about Amazon’s future strategy. Even though the value proposition they offered to users was ease, Dash buttons still added too much friction to the purchasing process. And the future of Amazon is about selling things without the customer having to log on and buy them.

The buttons weren’t fast enough for customers

Above all else, Dash buttons underdelivered on their promise. Their appeal–press button, get thing–was obvious to anyone who has found themselves without toothpaste or toilet paper. But unlike most physical buttons in our world,  which have instantaneous results like turning on the A/C in the car or making Mario jump, the only thing you could count on when you hit a Dash button was a two-day wait.

As of 2017, Amazon was selling thousands of items to customers via Dash buttons each day. That sounds like a lot, until you remember the company’s scale: Amazon currently has 100 million Prime members, and it sold millions of Dash buttons before it discontinued the program.

Replenishment Services-enabled Brita water filter. [Image: Amazon]

They weren’t easy enough for Amazon, either

From a UX perspective, Dash buttons are outmoded–because Amazon has already figured out how to tackle the delay between realizing you’re out of toilet paper and actually getting it.

Amazon’s Subscribe & Save system has let customers auto-order goods for years now. But the company has launched another, even more friction-less initiative dubbed Replenishment Services, which can part you with your money with unprecedented efficiency. From Brita water filters to HP inkjet printers, the Replenishment Services program invites manufacturers to bake auto-ordering right into their cloud-connected products. Once a customer sets up Replenishment Services on a device, they never need to order replacement toothbrush heads or coffee pods again. The transaction is automatic. Amazon reports that Replenishment Services purchases have doubled year-over-year.

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[Photo: Seastock/iStock]
Amazon doesn’t necessarily need to gain more traction in your home to grow, anyway.

For Amazon to continue expanding, it needs to diversify, and have its services available in places where they are not. It’s this strategy that led to the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods–but more importantly, the launch of Amazon’s first Go store in 2018 and a newly announced plan to open a third sub-brand of grocery stores early next year.

Having conquered online shopping, Amazon clearly sees a big opportunity to reduce payment friction (the time and mental effort it takes to buy something) in the physical, brick-and-mortar space. That may be easier for a tech company like Amazon, which owns one of the biggest piles of cloud-based computers in the world, to disrupt than peers like Walmart. Amazon Go stores allow Amazon to be its own cloud customer, leveraging AI to let people to buy things in a store just by grabbing them off the shelf and walking out. No cashier–or buttons, or two-day wait–required.

With Replenishment Services, an online customer never needs to choose to buy a product online again. With its Go stores, Amazon is creating a similarly friction-less experience, but in the real world.

But is friction-free shopping good for anyone except Amazon?

Amazon more or less describes its strategy in an official statement on the demise of the Dash button program:

“…With Dash Replenishment, we’ve launched hundreds of devices globally that automatically reorder essentials so customers don’t have to think at all about restocking….We’ve also seen customers increasingly using programs like Alexa Shopping, which provides a hands free shopping experience, and Subscribe & Save, which lets customers automatically receive their favorite items every month.”

While the ease and convenience of these programs is certainly appealing–and by all means, very user-friendly–it might not be good for consumers.

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Research shows that 84% of Americans underestimate the money they spend on digital subscription services. And people can spend as much as 100% more with a frictionless credit card than they would with cash, which at least has the protective effect of literally causing people pain when they part with it. Given that wages have been practically stagnant for most people since 1979, consumers should be thinking about each purchase more, not less.

In other words, the Amazon Dash button was always a bad idea. But the hyper-optimized purchasing model that’s emerging in its place could be far worse.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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