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Amazon Dash Buttons Solve a Nonexistent Problem

The e-tailer’s ad gadgets might look like they make life more convenient, but they only make life dumber

(Amazon/Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Amazon/Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Amazon debuted 50 new Dash buttons on Wednesday. I do not recommend buying any of them, for one reason: Dash buttons are an absurd gimmick. If, up until now, you managed to remain unaware of what a Dash button is, first, congratulations. Second, to ruin things: A Dash button is a $5 connected plastic device advertising a product, with a button in its center. Pressing the button alerts Amazon to fill an order of toilet paper, whey protein, or whatever other household good the Dash button advertises. A $5 credit is applied after the first purchase, so it could be argued that these gadgets don’t really end up costing users anything — except their dignity.

I am an Amazon Prime member. I buy my deodorant and dish soap from Amazon. I bought my coffee table on Amazon. (This is it. I don’t even think The Ringer gets Amazon affiliate links. Just pure advice, from me, on where to purchase an attractive, affordable coffee table that causes people to ask “where did you get this coffee table” and allows the buyer to say, smugly, “from Amazon and it wasn’t expensive.”) I’m not arguing that buying stuff online is bad. Buying stuff online means nobody ever sees me carrying toilet paper rolls in public. Buying stuff online rules. Amazon’s Dash buttons, however, do not rule.

Purchasing individual cheap, branded tchotchkes representing home goods and then placing these objects strategically throughout the home, and then going around and physically banging on them is far more complicated than ordering the stuff the tchotchkes represent online. It’s an unappealing trade-off. Ordering household items online is easy. You click with your finger on a device. That’s the whole thing. It’s not stressful. Yet to alleviate the burden of clicking on things, Amazon proposes that we scatter ugly little oblong promo gizmos throughout our homes and click on them instead of our clickpads, and then Amazon acts like this is innovation.

Dash buttons are promoted as the acme of the Amazon efficiency ethos. These buttons remove the need to talk to a salesperson or go to a store or even open a computer. They remove all friction and obstacles to purchasing goods and reduce product acquisition to the act of mindlessly bumping up against an advertisement. And yet, while Amazon promotes these advertising gizmos as the vanguard of convenience (which they are not), they represent another Amazon ethos: manipulating customers to spend money.

Amazon uses a sophisticated pricing strategy that employs algorithms to give the illusion of bargains. Its success as a ruthless e-commerce giant is grounded in developing new tactics, so I suppose Dash buttons shouldn’t surprise me. While they are not a boon to customers, they are fantastic for Amazon. The company figured out how to get people to literally fill their homes with tiny physical reminders of what it sells, and it figured out how to get people comfortable with not looking at prices or even reading anything before making a purchase.

The laziest possible thing is not always the best thing, and sometimes it’s plain silly. Remember on The Simpsons when Homer invented the lazy man toilet? He thought it was genius because it removed the need to get up and go to a bathroom. The joke was that it was obviously revolting; people have to get up and go into a special room to go to the bathroom for a reason. Turning your living room into one big bathroom is a horrible solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Likewise, turning your home into a display case for tacky, interactive ad displays that can be pressed to deliver goods is a bizarre, unnecessarily complicated solution to another problem that doesn’t exist.