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Amazon Dash: Taking ecommerce backwards to go forwards?

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13th Apr 2014
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For those who haven’t seen it, Amazon launched its latest contraption, Dash, just over a week ago – a remote control-type device which features a microphone and a barcode reader, and allows you to either scan or speak the name of a regular household item you may need, like say, milk or a wearable hummingbird feeder, before having it delivered to your door via the Amazon Fresh service.

While it’s currently just a trial for ‘invitation only’ in the US, it’s a pretty compelling move and if it ends up going global, asks a number of questions about what Amazon, so often the blueprint-provider for good customer service and experience, thinks the consumer of the near-future really wants.  

For instance – why another gadget? An article on PC World.com called Dash a retro-futurist’s dream, which is a pretty apt description given the look they’ve gone for and the captain’s log-style functionality. But what’s wrong with incorporating Dash into a smartphone? As Adrian Gonzalez recently noted, there’s already plenty of ubiquitous technology that can do a similar job on the interface side.

Adrien Nussenbaum, co-founder of online marketing tool, Mirakl believes the device itself is an irrelevance in relation to the overall strategy behind the product:

“The concept of Dash is really more about Amazon’s data policy rather than consumer benefits or the actual device, certainly at this stage,” he says. “It fits in clearly with Amazon's strategy around collecting data, and so the really interesting thing will be to see how they plan to integrate that in their global CRM and personalisation strategy.”

Personal enough?

The mention of personalisation also raises the question of how Dash will cope with offering choice. In the product’s promotional video, a girl is playing the guitar when she suddenly grabs the device and says ‘guitar strings’. But aren’t guitar strings a subjective selection, based on tension requirements, guitar type, ability, brand preference etc? How can this concept ever offer this level of choice? Adrian Gonzalez suggests that through Dash’s inception, Amazon could be damaging the very aspects of personalisation it’s built its reputation on:

“Amazon Dash might make it easy and fun to create a shopping list, but Amazon can’t fulfill all the products and brands we want to buy on that list”. And, as with home shopping’s longstanding problem, how can Dash overcome the fact that most people actually want to be able to select their own groceries, despite the supposed hassle?

Lack of experience

Then there’s the question about the experience. Pitched as a family-friendly way of ordering goods as and when they’re required or on a whim, Dash is evidently an easy-to-use service, fitting in perfectly with the hectic lifestyles of the modern, suburban, 2 point 4 children households. But what about the families that don’t fit in with this ideal? What about when the kids grab hold of the device and repeat ‘Oreos, Oreos, Oreos’ over and over?! Eric Abensur, CEO at ecommerce solutions provider, Venda believes this lack of single user control means Dash could find it difficult to change the mindset of what it suggests is its target market:

“The true debate here is whether Dash offers a superior user experience over the barcode scanner that’s already in many consumers’ pockets: their smartphone.”

But even in the doubtful reality that homeowners hold on to their empty packaging for scanning purposes, it’s hard to believe this latest tech gimmick from Amazon is going be able to break the relationship UK shoppers already have with the major UK supermarkets and their local grocers.”

Despite these concerns, Abensur, like everyone else, is in acceptance that Dash is a bold move by Amazon. Even in trial, the product proves that the world’s biggest retailer is still willing to take risks in the order of innovation. And if the move pays off and it really is what the consumer wants, the Holy Grail of being able to seamlessly cater for a customer’s every need could be in sight:

“As a comparison, most supermarkets (in the UK at least) currently try to replicate the in-store experience for online shopping with websites organised by aisle,” says Neal Game, director for consultancy firm Incite Marketing Planning. “However, in doing so they are neglecting possible advantages of internet shopping and the removal of the physical constraints.

“By understanding habits and actively making suggestions - putting weekly essentials in the basket first for example – Amazon is essentially making the online experience a whole lot easier. Dash is a significant step in starting to use technology to reduce the boredom of the weekly shop for consumers. It may not be the final solution (how long have we heard about fridges that can order your milk when you run out for?) but it is a positive step for the industry and should be commended.”  

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