In the last two months, Amazon has spotlighted two new products that allow shoppers to add items to their shopping list without ever typing anything into a search bar. This isn’t a coincidence.
The most recent one is Amazon Dash — a thin, wand-like device, revealed on Friday, that includes both a microphone and a barcode scanner. Speak into it or scan a box of cereal or pack of toilet paper to automatically add that product to your AmazonFresh shopping list.
For now, it is available only on a trial basis to Amazon customers in San Francisco and Los Angeles who pay for Amazon’s new Prime Fresh membership, which includes grocery delivery.
Before Dash, Amazon announced in February that it was adding a technology called Flow to its main shopping app on mobile phones. A user taps on the Flow feature in the app, points the phone at a product in their home — say, a book or a bottle of shampoo — and Flow is supposed to quickly display the product page on the phone’s screen.
Both Dash and Flow seem a bit gimmicky now. And I have no idea whether either will ever move past that stage and toward mass adoption. But they are both signs that Amazon is seriously thinking about how to remove as much friction as possible for people who are looking to buy a specific item from Amazon, but are on the move and not sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen.
The Rise of Virtual Brick-and-Mortars
Ever since Amazon’s Price App appeared on the retail scene some 18 months ago, pundits have prophesized the demise of big-box retailers. There’s no question that Amazon’s innovation went right for the jugular of any volume- and price-focused retailer selling commodity goods like consumer electronics and household wares. Indeed, retailers from Best Buy and Target to Bed Bath & Beyond, PetSmart, and Toys R Us are in danger of becoming mere showrooms for Amazon and its ilk. But innovative retailers are responding to this threat by turning “showrooming” to their own advantage.