What “successful” means at the world’s biggest retailer is complicated. Rausch won’t reveal sales numbers, but Dash Buttons aren’t exactly sold, anyway. For starters, to use them you need to subscribe to Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year. Then you shell out $4.99 for each Dash button (every brand requires its own button), but the device comes with a $4.99 credit toward your first order. Amazon is no stranger to loss leaders, and it probably makes enough profit from Prime memberships to subsidize the cost of the devices anyway.
But the real aim of Dash Button isn’t to sell Dash Buttons. Like Prime itself, the program’s goal is to encourage more frequent and more regular retail purchases. In that respect, Dash Button joins a family of related programs, including Prime Pantry, a grocery essentials service; Subscribe and Save, a subscription staples service; Amazon Echo, a home-automation appliance that takes orders by voice; and Prime Now, a same-day delivery app available in select markets. On its own, Dash Button seems ridiculous. But as a tentacle swelling from the increasingly pervasive retail monster that is Amazon, it starts to make sense.
“Customers should never run out of stuff,” Rausch implores. If 1-Click and Prime gave Amazon customers the convenience of quick purchase and quick delivery, respectively, then Dash Button hopes to distribute that convenience and speed throughout the home.
Those of us who are shackled to our smartphones might wonder: Why not just use the Amazon app to order a new carton of Huggies or box of Larabars? But from this perspective 1-Click doesn’t make sense either—the shopping-cart checkout process isn’t so laborious, after all; consumers just become less tolerant of any inconvenience as new conveniences arise. And Amazon has built its empire on incremental shifts in retail convenience—starting with e-commerce itself. Dash Button makes certain kinds of purchases ever more convenient by moving the act of buying something slightly closer to the moment when the need for it arises. It’s the famous Amazon 1-Click button made flesh.
But what about my daughter’s sneer at the two-day wait? Rausch tells me that Amazon doesn’t see Dash Button as an impulse purchasing gadget, but a means to keep staples in stock without the nuisance of storing bulk purchases, remembering to re-order, or being tied to a subscription schedule. “Customers know the about-to-run-out-of-it moment,” he explains, citing the bathroom as an example. As you stand before the fogged mirror in your towel and deploy the last razorblade, depressing the nearby Gillette button becomes an act of planning rather than of desperation.
Even so, Dash Button is still fairly limited. Because the devices are branded, Amazon has had to negotiate arrangements with each vendor to participate in the program. And even the few vendors on the roster don’t allow their whole catalog to be purchased via Dash. After shelling out the five bucks for a Gatorade button, I was disappointed to learn that I could only order flavor variety packs—cases of just the non-ghastly red flavor are only available via Amazon Pantry. And so, a phalanx of yellow Gatorades borders my fridge. That’s Rausch’s about-to-run-out-of-it moment, but contorted, as if Amazon knows that everyone hates yellow Gatorade but tricked me into compliance since I could still swill the stuff while waiting for a new shipment of red and orange. Once only yellows remain, it’s time to press the button again.