If necessity is the mother of invention, convenience is the absentee father whose love we continue to chase.
We built means of conveyance, from carriages to cars to planes, so we don’t have to walk places. Then we built communication devices like the telegraph, telephone, and Internet so we didn’t have to go places at all. But we still had to go through the inordinate effort of calling places or going online and clicking things whenever we needed to make a purchase – daddy convenience failed to show up yet again, continuing to promise he’d be at the next baseball game.
It’s a line humanity has heard throughout the history of its technological advances, but it looks like dad really did make it to the big game. Even if he turns out to be slightly abusive, at least he came, right?
Amazon: Taking the Consumer Out of Consumerism
The first devices capable of partnering with Amazon Dash Replenishment Service are going live, meaning lucky early adopters now no longer have to personally order things like water filters, laundry detergent, and pet food. Instead, smart WiFi-connected appliances will detect when things are running low, place an automatic order with Amazon, and then have the products at your door within 48 hours, and billed to your credit card.
Companies already offering or planning to offer products that integrate with Amazon Dash include Brita, which has a smart pitcher that measures the amount of water flowing through its filter and reorders after 40 gallons; GE, which is offering a new washer/dryer pair that stores and automatically dispenses detergent – and then orders more when its needed (Whirlpool is also making a laundry set that can automatically order supplies, though it’s unclear if it directly measures detergent levels or simply calculates on a per-load basis); Brother and Samsung both offer printers with automatic ink reordering; automatic pet food dispensers like CleverPet is on the case for your furry friends; and Sutro, a device that monitors pool and hot tub chemicals will be sure to keep your chlorine afloat.
Amazon has thrown the Dash doors wide open, saying that any device capable of being connected to the Internet – directly or through an intermediary – can be integrated with Dash Replenishment services. Apparently, Amazon is willing to work with manufacturers large and small to get the significant reach for which they’re hoping.
A Special Brand of Blind
If / when Dash Replenishment catches on with consumers, they may find themselves locked into brands for several years longer than usual, and perhaps right up until auto-reordering is the new normal – which could very well happen.
Amazon and other online retailers made buying things easier, but they didn’t make it invisible or unconscious. You still had to make a drunken decision and click the button every time you wanted to buy that six-foot inflatable alligator living room ornament – something that might not have happened if you actually had to go to a store, but something you took a moment out of your day to actively accomplish nonetheless. You had to weigh the price of the alligator and determine that it was indeed worthwhile to complete your bayou-themed living room, but more importantly, you were naturally encouraged to evaluate a healthy number of alternative.
When our appliances are automatically buying things for us, specific products and brands immediately inherit a much higher barrier to replacement; if Brand X is charged to your card and delivered to your door without you even thinking about it, the odds that you’ll ever consider trying Brand Y drop considerably. The early leg of such extreme “convenience” is likely to have some adverse effects on competitive landscapes (especially with startups facing off against incumbents) and historically, that has been a bad thing for consumers.
Who knows what kind of effect this will have on advertising tactics…
It’s like finally getting to go somewhere with your dad, only to have him lock you in the car for a few hours while he takes your college money to bet on the ponies. Sort of.
Soon enough we’ll have cars that drive themselves in for tuneups and belt changes, and why not refrigerators that order their own beer and cheese? At least we’ll always have dad’s favorite IPA on hand just in case he decides to stop by. The real Gold Medal will be to the company who figures out how to apply this kind of technology to toilet paper and diapers.
Daniel A. Guttenberg is an Atlanta-based writer who fell into the startup world by accident and has been gleefully treading water ever since. He will be survived by his beard and his legacy of procrastination.
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