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Amazon announced last week that it will discontinue its Amazon Dash button service.

Its what? You remember, those little wifi-enabled physical buttons that were branded with a given item you felt the need to buy regularly and were connected to your home network. The same buttons that a court in Germany ruled to be, ahem, illegal – more on that later.

Why did these ever see the light of day?

At its core, it seems like a great idea. A simple little physical button you can place anywhere, and with a tap, *poof* whatever item that Dash button is tagged to is bought and shipped. The goal was to shorten the buy-cycle. Why have your user walk to their desktop or pull out their phone, log in (if needed), search, click, put it in their cart, click buy, confirm shipping and payment options, and get their confirmation message? The Dash button kept your preferences pre-loaded, so all you had to do was press a single button – that you could place anywhere – and your order was on its way.  Sounds great, right?

However, ask yourself, what was this device actually saving you? Money? No – it wasn’t like you got discounts for using your Dash button over say, your phone. Was it time? Perhaps – but how hard is it when you’re doing laundry and notice that last Tide pod sitting there, to pull out your phone (or walk back to where you left it if you possess above-average self-control) and reorder it via the app? Probably not a lot of time to be saved there. If that was an issue for you, then you might want to consider loosening up your schedule a bit.

So what went wrong with the Dash?

Here are the four largest problems with Amazon Dash, why people, by and large, rejected it, and why Amazon is discontinuing it:

Problem #1 – Price Transparency.

One of the basic tenets of good e-commerce almost goes without saying: your price needs to be clearly stated. Amazon knows this, which is why the price, at least at the time of this article, shares the same font with the header description of the product itself. However, with the Dash button, you didn’t get that. So you were assuming you were getting the same price you paid last time. Anyone who has bought anything more than once on Amazon knows that this is a foolish position to take. Prices fluctuate regularly on virtually everything on Amazon. Again, Amazon knows this, which is why you get warnings about items on your lists, or items you’ve bought before – and how much they’ve changed for better or for worse.

Problem #2 – Purchase Control.

The Dash button gave the user the appearance of ease and instant gratification (who doesn’t like to have a need met with the push of a button?) at the cost of information, control, and upfront pricing. The user could, in fact, press a button and be done with it, but that user now wonders if they got a good deal, wonders when the item will ship (and if they could have saved a buck by pushing the delivery date back – or spent a dollar to get it sooner). In short, like so many technological shortcuts towards “ease of use” – the things you sacrifice outweigh the things you gain.

Problem #3 – The Physical Button.

If I were to own a dash button for every item that I would buy on a regular basis, I’d have a wall of buttons somewhere in my home. Who wants that? By introducing a rather large (versus a virtual one on my phone) physical button for a single item, you create a problem of scale – where do you keep these buttons if you want to fully buy-in to the Dash Button buying experience? Moreover, as these are sealed units, I now have to keep up with them if/when they fail, the battery dies, etc..? Again, you have to ask yourself: what are you expecting your customers to trade for the illusion of ease and instant gratification?

Problem #4 – Germany Says “Nein”.

According to Reuters, the devices break Germany’s consumer protection laws as they do not give sufficient information about the product ordered or its price. There was also concern that according to Amazon’s T&C, they could switch out the product you ordered for a “similar one” – but you wouldn’t know that until you got the box (or you combed through your confirmation message, but then that defeats the purpose, right?) So again, we’re back to the issue of control, which an entire nation seems to think is somewhat important to consumers. I’m guessing most of our readers don’t live in Germany, but the underlying reasoning applies to all of us: this device is a poor e-commerce tool at best, and at worst was costing users by way of wasted money and time.

So, how could this have been prevented?

The lesson here is that there needs to be a realistic and balanced approach to implementation of new tech and a look at what needs this new tech is actually fulfilling – before you roll it out. There is something inherently good behind the Dash button. If retail stores can have LED price tags on their shelves that update from a central server and save who knows how much in paper and printing, perhaps that is the direction Amazon should have gone. I’m sure the tech would have cost a bit more, a small LED/LCD screen with the current price, and an automatic rejection of the order if the item is out of stock, and we might not be talking about the little devices in this vein. Interestingly, the “Virtual Dash Buttons” that can be displayed on your Amazon page, your Echo device, even your mobile Amazon app – all show pricing. Just sayin’…

One of the first exercises you do before any e-commerce venture is identifying your customer. Not just a market segment or demographic analysis, but really diving deep into their buying habits, what needs your product or service is fulfilling (not to be confused with what your product actually does), and what sort of pain points are they experiencing when buying your type of offering – from you and from your competitors. When you look back at the Dash, it doesn’t seem to really demonstrate a deep understanding of the targeted user of said device. So, the real question is…

How does this affect the marketing world?

It’s the thinking behind this decision (or more importantly the reasoning that led to it in the first place) that we want to highlight here. I can’t sit here and tell you that I would have predicted the failure of these odd little devices, but I can tell you that as soon as I heard about them, my first reaction was to chuckle, shake my head, then start thinking about “how did that meeting go?” There had to be some tech-sizzle blindness going on in that room. Much like why we see so many poor, rushed implementations of chatbots, to the point people are starting to backlash against them. Too quick to implement, too late to think it out and test it. This is just bad design 101.

Imagine designing an e-commerce site that didn’t display the current price? Not only that, a site that would automatically ship your customer a “similar product” without your customer’s consent, and would default to a given shipping rate/arrival time, without giving your customer the control to decide that for themselves. Sounds insane, right? Yet that is precisely what the Dash button did.

We all have to walk a balance between the latest in MarTech and the desires of our customers. Sure you want to use a chatbot to save your company money on human-powered customer service, but you need to design it in such a way as to actually provide value to your customers. The short-sighted focus on your bottom line and the assumption that your solution actually adds value to the buying process, well, that’s pretty much what we’ve seen here in the demise of the Dash.

Good design starts before you write a single line of code.

It begins by asking questions, it begins by understanding the buying habits of your customers, as well as their pain points. It starts by understanding the entire cycle from click to delivery. It begins by identifying your customer personas and their purchase journeys. When – and only when – you have those mapped out, you can start to talk about introducing new tech and what that tech will mean to your customers: ease of use or loss of control?

At Enilon, we’re big on e-commerce and digital solutions that begin with customer strategy. From plants to private jets, we can help you to make the most of your website and e-commerce program, putting it to work for you and your customers. Interested in seeing how we can optimize your current e-commerce strategy? Drop us a line – we’re always listening.

Image courtesy of Alexander Klink – Own work, CC BY 4.0