When Amazon launched the Dash Button in 2015, some people thought it was a joke. But the tiny WiFi-connected device, which automatically reorders household essentials when you press it, is no prank. Now, a year after the initial launch, the online shopping giant has rolled out nearly 80 new Dash Buttons, betting that people will come to love the convenience of simply tapping a button to replenish their stock of everything from coconut water to condoms.
Certainly the idea of never running out of toilet paper or laundry detergent again is appealing. But is this nifty little gadget really the blessing Amazon makes it out to be? While the frictionless shopping experience promised by the Dash Button has a futuristic appeal, consumers who aren’t careful how they use it could find it doesn’t do their wallet any favors.
“The Dash button is an unabashed attempt to disconnect customers from the amount of money we’re spending,” Mark Wilson wrote in an essay for FastCoDesign.
To understand how the Dash Button could lead you to spend more money, you need to understand how it works. First, there are the start-up costs. To use a Dash Button, you’ll need an Amazon Prime account, which costs $99 per year and comes with free two-day shipping on many products. Dash Buttons aren’t free, either. They cost $4.99 each, though you’ll receive a credit for the purchase price after your first order.
Once you have your button, simply stick it somewhere in your house, like near the washer if you have a Tide Dash Button or next to the coffee maker if you have one for Peet’s Coffee. Use your Amazon account to decide which specific product or package size you want to automatically reorder. When you’re running low on any of those essentials, press the button and Amazon will ship it to you.
For those worried about accidentally ordering a dozen cases of Kraft mac and cheese, Amazon has built in a few features to avoid Dash Button disasters. Once you press the button, you can’t place another order until the first is delivered. You also get a notification when an order is placed, so you can cancel the shipment if someone pressed the button by accident.
But one thing Amazon Dash won’t do is make sure you’re getting the best price on the item you’re ordering. Not only does the button discourage you from shopping around for better deals at other stores, it also means you probably won’t look for cheaper products on Amazon itself. You might typically use Tide detergent, yet be open to switching to another brand if the price was right. But if you have a Dash Button, you’ll probably never take the time to seek out those deals.
In addition, the variety of products you can order with the Dash Button may be limited. The Quaker Dash Button lets you choose from granola bars and instant oatmeal, but currently doesn’t let you reorder larger (and cheaper) canisters of oats. You can buy a 8-pack of AAA Energizer EcoAdvanced batteries at $1.22 per battery with your Dash Button, but not a 34-pack of Energizer Max AAA batteries, which cost $0.54 each.
“The Dash button makes you pay for its supposed convenience by removing potential discounts,” Wilson argued.
And while there’s a lot to be said for convenience (your time is valuable, after all), Amazon doesn’t always have the best price on household items. Savvy shoppers may be able to find better prices on many items at other retailers, especially if they’re not brand loyal. Newcomer Jet.com also undercuts Amazon’s prices on many items, though its selection is more limited.
“I’ve personally seen items like toiletries, groceries and other common items come in significantly higher in price [at Amazon] versus other retailers,” personal finance blogger John Schmoll wrote in an article for U.S. News & World Report. “Convenience aside, it likely doesn’t make much sense to spend three to four times as much on an item, regardless of whether or not it’s something you use every day.”
Though the Dash Button does make it easy to spend money without really thinking about it, early adopters aren’t exactly going crazy with their purchases. The average Dash Button user spends between $10.76 and $27.11 per order depending on the brand, according to research by Slice Intelligence. The typical customer places an order once every two months, and more than half of people who had Dash Buttons haven’t used them all.
The relatively slow start for Amazon Dash may have to do with the limited number of buttons initially offered. Dash Button orders have grown by 75% since the start of 2016, according to Amazon, and as brands are added, more people might be willing to take a chance on the service. But some believe the Dash Button and other tricks for making online ordering easier aren’t really something consumers want.
“With a lot of these things, you could argue that there’s a solution in search of a problem,” Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights for comScore Inc., told CreditCards.com. “You ask many consumers, they’ll say that pulling a credit card out of my wallet and swiping is not a problem that needs solving.”