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Why would Amazon launch Dash in the UK?

31st Aug 2016
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Amazon has launched its plat de jour –  the humble Dash button –  in the UK, having had just over a year to bed into homes in the US.

Dash, which started life in April 2014 as a remote control-type device consumers could speak shopping requests into, manifested into a selection of plastic buttons with the logos of your most-used brand products plastered across them. The idea is that every time a commodity, be it washing detergent, dog food, toilet roll or play-doh runs out, you can press a button and have it ordered to your house instantly, through your Amazon Prime account.

"We've all experienced the frustration of running out of something we need—Dash Button and Dash Replenishment Service are designed to make that moment a thing of the past," said Daniel Rausch, director for Dash.

"Dash Buttons offer the convenience of one-click shopping from anywhere in the home—they can be placed near those frequently used items you don't want to run out of, and when you see supplies running low, the Dash Button makes it easier than ever to order more. Just press the button and your item is on its way."

The concept of Dash is really more about Amazon’s data policy rather than consumer benefits or the actual device

The question is – has Dash’s success in the US really warranted extending the product to the UK and beyond?

The Wall Street Journal reported back in June that fewer than half of the customers with Dash buttons had placed a single order via the one-touch shopping system.

Given each Dash button costs $4.99 in the US (set to be £4.99 in the UK), this seems like a disappointing conversion.  

But, as Adrien Nussenbaum, co-founder of online marketing tool, Mirakl told us back in 2014, 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.”

Conversely, BBC technology reporter, Dave Lee, said in 2015 that the new button-based iteration of Dash was a step up the ladder towards a true Internet of Things, and Amazon’s favoured eventuality of products and devices knowing when things were broken or running out and simply ordering replacements without human intervention.

“Amazon’s ultimate aim, of course, is for this sort of thing to happen automatically. It’s been working with companies like Brita to produce a smart jug where, when water flows through it, the filter will  know when it needs changing, and a printer from Brother which will know when it’s running out of ink - which could get more than a little pricey.”

Pricing problems

Whilst Dash is undeniably an innovative step forwards and a tangible shift towards contextual commerce, the pricing problems being experienced in the US will remain even more of a concern in the UK, where the effects of Brexit are expected to make shoppers more cautious in the short-term.

Play-doh

Indeed, Amazon’s raison d'être has always been its ability to beat competitors on price, with convenience a close second.  Yet the Wall Street Journal, in its assessment of Dash in the US, pointed to one specific customer made one purchase of a 12-pack of Gatorade with the button for $9, but never placed another because the second time around the price for the same product leaped to $22.

“If I have to check on the price every time,” she said, “it’s not actually saving me time.”

Despite this, Mark Skilton, a professor of practice at Warwick Business School and an expert on technology and the Internet of Things, believes the success of other Amazon innovations in the UK is reason enough to believe Dash can still be a success.

"Amazon is pushing hard to find ways to extend its formidable online marketplace with the ability to connect consumers in particular to its front end through mobile and other devices.

"The recent successes of Amazon Echo - its intelligent speaker - and Alexa - its speech recognition app - in the US has shown where voice activated services can really work well in a home or social setting.

"It's all about grabbing the attention of people. The Amazon Dash button is such a device to grab the moment: should you need to reorder items such as washing powder, food or other items you have ran out of, it's quick and easy, one press to setup and go. It is not the Amazon Echo / Alexa system as there is no interaction with the user but it’s another step in the direction to automation when this will be ubiquitous.    

"To that extent I see the Dash button as only a temporary solution, but nevertheless a key step on the road to the connected world it promises.”

Despite being dwarfed by total online spending in China and the US, nearly 77% of the UK's population will make a purchase online by 2018, according to eMarketer. It’s this sort of statistic that Amazon will hope helps Dash evolve from being its plat du jour to a chef-d'œuvre.

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