Amazon Dash

The Amazon Dash announcement has been making the rounds of social media memes, so I am sure you have seen it. But I want to provoke perhaps a more skeptical consideration. By now, you are probably familiar with the basic workings and the business model. And as HF pros, you probably have some insights on the behavioral science behind it.

The Dash Button is a bite-sized plastic module that you can stick anywhere you might want to impulse-restock a particular product (presumably in your home). It connects to Wi-Fi. You push it. Goods are shipped to your door. The buttons will be free for Prime members to order, so that they can use them to order more stuff from Amazon.

In case you are not familiar, here is the basic design. You get a button that has a logo of a brand. You place the button somewhere close to where you store or use the brand at home. When you realize you need more, you just hit the button and it is automatically ordered through Amazon. You preset each button with the specific size, variety, quantity, or whatever other attribute that is relevant to your purchase.

My Take

There is a small but important error recovery check. When you place the order, you get a text message to your phone that has a option. If you hit the buy button by mistake (or a neighbor or household pet hits it), you can cancel. But this is an error recovery default, not error prevention. If you don’t hit the cancel button, the default is to place the order. There is no requirement to hit a button. And many users may develop an automated, unconscious habit of deleting these texts unread. So even when there is a mistake, you may not revoke it.

There are also some clear behavioral science links. By making the process seamless, consumers are much more likely to transact. Often without much focused attention that we usually use when shopping actively.

The design has established a really high bar for switching to another brand. The consumer doesn’t get to shop around for better prices, a different brand, new options, or anything else. The more you use it, the more you get “trained” not to think about these shopping needs that we usually rely on, because they become invisible. You are not consciously giving up these choices; you are simply not reminded of them. And the purchase is always made through Amazon.

Another process that becomes seamless and invisible is the billing. The consumer is automatically charged for the order. There is a solid body of evidence that the more separated a consumer is from the payment process, the less psychologically painful the payment is. So the fact that you didn’t get the best deal, or even a halfway decent deal that was just a click away, is lost on you.

The button is also visible 24/7 when anyone is in the room. Essentially, you have now placed a billboard for the brand in your house – visible to you, your family, and your guests. Free advertising for the brand, unlike the product package which is in the cabinet or maybe in the trash days ago.

Your Turn

What do you think? Am I being a Cassandra? Are we destined to become automatons in Amazon’s consumption machine?

Image Credit: Amazon Logo

7 thoughts on “Amazon Dash”

  1. Products are being constantly evolved (even things as simple as liquid detergent). The dash button would be a great convenience for people who have strict choices. But for others, I believe 1) it would take away the fun of trying new and better products . 2) if a product is out of stock and you chose to ignore the message then you stay under the false impression that you will receive the product which eventually wouldn’t arrive, leaving you frustrated with a bunch of clothes left to be laundered.

  2. I have to join the rank of skeptics on this one. There are very few things that I would opt to have on “auto-purchase” and those might all be classified as life-critical where brand matters. Otherwise, deciding “not to decide” is, in fact, a decision and one that can cause some issues. While it is in the best interests of the seller to have auto-purchase or to make buying as seamless as possible, those interests do not always (rarely?) coincide with the best interests of the individual who might find a better product, a better price or that the product is not needed at all. Are we all really so cognitively loaded that the simple things like buying laundry detergent will tip us over the edge? or, in times of real stress, do the simple decisions and actions of life restore our confidence and competence? I doubt that the cognitive load is as much the issue as relieving the consumer of the need to think and reconsider the purchase at all. Throw in the free advertising aspect and it’s an easy ‘sell’ — for the seller!

  3. I don’t like being forced to purchase a specific item from a specific vendor at an unknown price. Also, the text message should be a confirmation rather than an abort.

    I like the idea of an app that makes my shopping list for me. Push a button and the item shows up on my list. I believe Amazon would do better by providing such an app. In this case, they are helping the buyer. The app could then be asked to queary Amazon for products and prices. More involved, but then spending should require more involvement so the purchaser retains cognitive control.

  4. All great comments. It seems that people who understand behavioral science and persuasive design look at Dash with a lot of skepticism. But as someone responded on Linked In, most consumer are pretty oblivious. They say “shut up and take my money” to quote that contributor.

    Oh well. Marketers win again :-(.

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