The Dash Button was just the beginning: Expanding commerce everywhere
When the Amazon Dash Button launched, some thought it so impractical that it must be an April Fool's joke. Contributor Davor Sutija urges marketers to consider it a bridge to the future of always-available commerce.
Brands and retailers are changing the way they engage with consumers who today have access to more choices than ever before. Increasing investments in “customer experience” enhancements, often incorporating technology, highlight the necessity of adapting old business practices to the speed and reality of omnichannel commerce.
As brands and retailers consider the role of the Internet of Things (IoT) in their operations and customer experience, they are quickly realizing the potential of simple IoT nodes or “touch points” to facilitate and encourage ubiquitous and immediate omnichannel commerce — the ability to quickly and easily initiate a targeted purchase just about anywhere and at any time.
As retail IoT buzz began to grow in 2015, e-commerce giant Amazon launched the Dash Button — a small battery-powered, WiFi-connected device that promised to streamline ordering of a specific product from a specific brand with the simple push of a button. While some initially saw it as an April Fool’s joke, the value became clear as initial curiosity led to satisfied users and significant sales for brands.
In practice, an Amazon user can purchase a $5 Dash Button featuring the Tide logo, for example, pair it to their home network, configure it to reorder Tide laundry detergent via Amazon and place the button near their clothes washer. When the user needs more Tide, they push the button and Amazon completes the order, shipping Tide to the user without any additional hassle. Many users were thrilled with the consumer experience, as evidenced by the reported acceleration of Dash-initiated transactions to four orders per minute by early 2017 — quadruple the previous year’s rate, according to TechCrunch.
But this is only the start of retail’s journey toward ubiquitous omnichannel commerce. While Amazon’s Dash program has validated the value of simplicity in the omnichannel consumer journey, it’s only an initial, limited step toward solutions that provide an always-available, consumer-optimized communication channel between a brand and an individual consumer.
The first step: Changing user behavior
To better serve customers and accelerate sales, brands and retailers are focused on maximizing convenience and minimizing friction throughout the consumer journey. As connectivity becomes more universal and consumer expectations of retail extend beyond physical shops and e-commerce websites, it’s reasonable for a consumer to expect that they can buy most products whenever and wherever it’s convenient.
As a tool to get users to think differently about commerce, the Dash Button has been a successful first step. We now know that shoppers can and will rely on the IoT to simplify their shopping experience, and this means that brands and retailers can invest in technology that creates a direct communication channel and commercial link to consumers.
This “commerce anywhere” approach benefits both consumers and brands, as consumer convenience leads to brand loyalty and a greater likelihood to repurchase. There’s room to grow beyond the Dash Button, which payment industry analyst Richard Crone calls “placeholder interim technology.” Meaning the Dash Button is a step toward figuring out a more permanent, actionable solution.
As it exists today, users face the burden of setup, as well as an up-front fee before a Dash button can be successfully activated and made functional. On the surface, it appears simple enough, but the concept of a simple one-touch trigger hides a substantial amount of up-front friction, with a setup process that’s actually closer to 15 steps.
First, a shopper has to make a conscious choice to order the button in advance of when they might need it. After paying for and receiving the button, the user then needs to install an associated app on their smartphone, which must be connected to the device via Bluetooth and WiFi. And because each Dash Button aligns with one specific product and brand, the consumer has to repeat this process for each device they want to set up.
Pushing a physical button also presents its own limitations and issues. As anyone with small children knows, buttons can be irresistible and don’t differentiate between users, which could easily lead to unwanted deliveries or the hassle of having to quickly cancel unintended or redundant orders. If the consumer runs out of a particular product but is not near the appropriate Dash Button, the device essentially becomes useless in their moment of need.
In this sense, the idea of commerce everywhere only works if the device is where the customer is, at the precise moment they want to buy. And if you consider the range of products a consumer might want to reorder in this fashion — e.g., cosmetics, toothpaste, laundry detergent, batteries, vitamins, baby diapers, water filters and light bulbs — it’s not unrealistic to think an individual may end up having to manage a collection of several dozen Dash Buttons. That’s not an ideal experience and adds yet another layer of complexity most consumers would rather not deal with.
Going integrated: A streamlined solution for smart appliances
With higher-end electronic devices constantly getting smarter, the Dash button has recently begun to appear in home appliances via Amazon’s software development kit (SDK) for third parties. Instead of a separate physical button that reorders a commonly used consumable product (from refrigerator filters to dishwasher detergent), the functionality can now be built into smart appliances that are already connected to a smart home network.
While the convenience is undeniable, market reach may be limited for some time. Analysts at IHS Technology estimate that fewer than a third of appliances sold in 2020 (31 percent, as compared to 0.2 percent in 2014) will have built-in connectivity, which means that a substantial opportunity exists to add simple “commerce everywhere” capabilities to consumable products and packages themselves.
In addition, “virtual” Dash Buttons can now be placed on websites to enable one-click Amazon ordering from within a brand’s own website. While this increases a brand’s dependency on a single retail channel, this approach may make sense to small brands who rely on the e-commerce giant for turnkey fulfillment services. However, this approach acts purely as a digital extension of the Dash concept and does not streamline the customer experience in the real world.
These extensions to the “commerce everywhere” concept gradually incorporate new use cases that build channel loyalty to Amazon. As we’ve previously discussed, adhering so closely to a single sales channel has the effect of creating an intermediary between brands and consumers.
For brands who want to enable the convenience of purchasing anywhere, anytime, but need more flexibility in the user experience and distribution channel, solutions are emerging to connect brands with consumers in ways that can leverage one or more preferred distribution partners, depending on the brand’s requirements.
So what’s next in ‘commerce everywhere?’
Innovators are introducing consumer-facing solutions that reach a wider range of shoppers, support more diverse products and eliminate setup friction while preserving the simplicity of placing an order.
A recent example of this next wave of commerce-enabled connected objects is a series of NFC-enabled refrigerator magnets (disclosure: enabled by my company’s technology) launched by liquor company Campari America in support of six popular brands, including Wild Turkey Bourbon, Espolon Tequila and Skyy Vodka.
When simply tapped with a smartphone, each magnet launches a streamlined e-commerce experience powered by the Drizly delivery platform, allowing consumers to instantly order the product for same-day delivery from a local, in-stock retailer. Hello, Dash Button 2.0! Always available reordering with no WiFi pairing, no initial setup and no batteries to replace.
The smartphone also adds to the user experience beyond what a simple button can deliver: With a single tap, users can adjust order quantity, try a different vodka flavor, apply a discount offer or receive a personalized recommendation that increases order size and satisfaction. While maintaining a streamlined ease of use, the smartphone interface to the physical touch point addresses several consumer concerns uncovered in a survey by retail solutions provider Field Agent: setup issues, blind ordering, limited products/brands and accidental/duplicate orders. By allowing for superior consumer choice and a better experience, brands build customer loyalty, strengthen a direct communication channel and increase revenues.
Speculating on what could come next, journalist Jared Newman imagined “buttons [built] into the product packaging itself. Each button would work once and would be discarded along with the package.” When billions of everyday items can be made interactive with easy-to-use, highly scalable, battery-free technology, brands and retailers can engage with consumers in meaningful new ways.
While a single smartphone tap on a product or package could simply trigger the next order with the security of biometric authentication that controls access to our personal device, that same tap could also present timely, contextual, item-specific information to increase consumer satisfaction and loyalty. This experience leverages the flexibility of the cloud: from updated usage tips and loyalty integration to streamlined access to warranty registration, location-aware support and personalized upsell/cross-sell opportunities.
The journey to connected consumer engagement will involve multiple solutions, and these approaches will improve in their simplicity, scale and effectiveness. Amazon’s Dash program validated the importance of simplicity in the modern consumer journey and opens the door to approaches that can accelerate the push toward platforms that can deliver “commerce everywhere.”
Think of the Amazon Dash button like the Wright Flyer: It’s the bold first flight into new frontiers, and the next generation — which has already begun to arrive — is even more comfortable, more cost-effective and scalable to the billions.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
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