Will Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf drive auto-replenishment from SMBs and consumers?

Discussion
Source: Amazon
Nov 12, 2020
Tom Ryan

Amazon.com, after retiring the Dash Button last year, has introduced a replacement, Dash Smart Shelf, that promises to shake up the office supplies space and bring auto-replenishment to households.

Costing $19.99 each, Dash Smart Shelf is a weight-sensing, Wi-Fi-enabled auto-replenishment scale. When placed on a flat surface, such as a warehouse rack, it can track inventory for commonly used products. When it senses supplies are running low, a replenishment order or notification is automatically sent.

The system offers three scale sizes; each scale can only be paired with one product at a time. Amazon says that “thousands of popular products” including most household and workplace staples can be replenished under the program.

For SMBs, Amazon is pitching the program as an upgrade from vendor-managed auto-replenishment programs that can be inflexible, hampered by restrictions based on minimum orders or service area, and tailored for industrial applications.

Will Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf drive auto-replenishment from SMBs and consumers?
Source: Amazon

“Dash Smart Shelf is our solution so that SMBs don’t have to choose between spending time with their customers or taking trips to the store to restock inventory” wrote Amazon in a blog entry.

Staples and Office Depot also offer auto-restocking programs, although their reorders are based on timed deliveries rather than smart inventory tracking.

Amazon, piloting the technology with SMBs since last fall, found consumers also interested in being freed up from the mundane task of replenishing their household essentials, such as toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, baby supplies and pet food. Amazon wrote, “Not only will it save them trips to the store, Dash Smart Shelf provides convenience and ongoing discounts on select products that customers purchase frequently.”

For both SMBs and households, the Dash Smart Shelf will have to hold more appeal than the Dash Button, the small stick-on buttons that allowed customers to reorder popular household items with a press. The Dash Button was retired after a four-year run as reordering became easier with Alexa’s arrival and as auto-replenishment features were incorporated into many smart devices, including printers and washing machines.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does the Dash Smart Shelf mark a leap forward from the Dash Button and for auto-replenishment? Will the Dash Smart Shelf likely offer more appeal to SMBs or households?

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"I think it’s great for business, not so great for consumer households."
"FAIL! Come on — this is technology for technology’s sake."
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17 Comments on "Will Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf drive auto-replenishment from SMBs and consumers?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

This doesn’t appear to be a game changer for Amazon. I don’t see many SMBs or consumers buying a $19.99 weight-sensing, WiFi-enabled auto-replenishment scale to make reordering supplies easier. Most SMBs and households have backups of commonly used items and simply purchase more backups when these are low. Dash Smart Shelf will likely be just as successful as the Dash Button.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

The Dash Button was smart. The Dash Smart Shelf is really smart. It’s a nicely evolved version of the original idea. Time-saving and convenience are two of the watch words of the day, and the Smart Shelf succeeds on both levels. Any retail process or feature that can give the customer a “one less thing” thought process provides a competitive edge. Capturing repetitive, recurring revenue businesses is a solid base to build on. It starts with trust and builds even more loyalty over time.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

A version of this system has been used in hotel minibars for years. The system would notify the hotel that an item had been used. Will consumers go for this? I’m not so sure. It requires that the household be pretty darn organized and not place anything else on the scale. Will that happen with kids, teens and even some dads?

I think it’s great for business, not so great for consumer households.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

The minibar seems like a good idea until it doesn’t. Usually when you check out you find charges for stuff you didn’t actually use.

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust

Does this mark a leap forward? Yes.

Will it offer more appeal to SMBs and households? Possibly.

However my read on this is that Amazon sees where life is going and it is trying to build products and systems to learn and optimize; either to pull us there or to be ready when we get there. A see a world of smart pantries at homes and in offices and smart packaging that connects to watches and other devices. In front of our eyes, they are building an ecosystem that will possibly be the Windows OS of our lives someday.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

I think that Amazon is pushing the envelope in the right direction but this is a transitional technology for sure. First they have to get the price to zero — you should get this for free if you are a Prime customer. Secondly, it should be some thin transparent mat that all products sit on where this replacement signal comes via AI/machine learning. It’s not hard to envision that if I have eggs, milk, soda, bread, and apples on the same shelf in my refrigerator that a “smart mat” could figure out what was there and what I was running low on. The drivers of success for this are winning on simplicity and creating a frictionless, almost perfect system. Price creates friction as does inaccuracy. Anyway, yes, they are headed down the right path but this is certainly not the endpoint.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

I agree that the scale should be free. I don’t know if many people would pay for this and then there is the added effort to place items on the scale and you probably have to enter in what the product is. It seems pretty cumbersome.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

This is interesting, the technology has been around for a while. But it’s typically been one of those hammer looking for a nail solutions. I see this in the same way. The issue with the Dash Button or auto replenishment subscriptions is any glitch in the process results in the consumer having a bad experience, usually paying for and receiving more of an item because maybe they took a few days off shaving or didn’t realize others in the house were hitting the Dash Button for for their morning coffee. Even with safeguards, the consumer still has to do something to undo the issue. Pretty far from friction free commerce.

I do think in-home, in-business smart restocking is in our future. I see this as a step on that journey. I think in terms paying $20 for the privilege of never running out pens however — we’re not quite there.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Amazon brings the hotel minibar experience to homes and SMBs! While this is an evolution of the Dash Button and delivers a more automated approach, I’m not sure how many will adopt it. It may work for SMBs that embrace the approach to managing their supplies, but I’m not sure most homes can dedicate and preserve the space needed without kids or pets accidentally knocking things over or otherwise interfering with the smart shelf. This feels more like another Amazon experiment to collect data on auto-replenishment and see what other ideas they can come up with to deliver the service to customers. It’s a step in the right direction and I am sure Amazon is still looking for the best combination of solutions to enable auto-replenishment for every customer. There’s no question Amazon is using this technology to further increase the level of convenience for their customers in their never-ending pursuit of customer satisfaction.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

FAIL!

Come on — this is technology for technology’s sake. Some Kool-Aid drinking fanboys and some businesses with a need to track a few specific items will go for this, but there is no market for widespread adoption. It’s not even practical and Amazon expects people to fork out money to own these things? If someone’s shelves are arranged as neatly as the promo shot, they can easily see they need more of some item and add it to their presumably frequent other Amazon purchases. Not to mention that there are discounted subscription replenishment services everywhere.

Of course this is maybe more media bait to keep their name front and center…

chris-marti
Guest

Simply put, Amazon is trying to disrupt the wholesale distribution market. It’s not about SMB inventory – it’s about the recurring delivery of goods to markets that are served by proprietary last-mile delivery from wholesalers like Sysco, W.B. Mason, etc. But it does need to work for SMBs to be successful.

The test of success will not be in hardware. Rather it will be, how well can the software meet the real needs of supply chain inventory replenishment? They only work with a single product – what if that product is out of stock at the vendor (as was the case for many products at the beginning of, and throughout, the pandemic)? Can SMBs, who take a bigger hit to the bottom line from price fluctuations, specify their preferred price point from multiple vendors?

I could go on with the examples. I find myself wondering: is the value of the time an SMB spends reordering single items from the same vendors more than the cost of an Amazon Smart Shelf per product? Probably not.

Scott Norris
Guest

The Kanban two-bin inventory system has been around for what, about 70 years now? I implemented it at a small electronics manufacturer back in 1996 and moved inventory turns from 3/year to about 24/year – as long as you’re working with parts vendors who can turn orders quickly and maintain stable stock, and engineers who don’t keep switching parts specifications, it simplifies so much of the operation that you don’t need a specialist to run it after setup. I don’t see how this could have made that system run any more smoothly.

As the new President says, “come on!” – keep a backup box of ballpoint pens, and when you tap into that, order another box. This isn’t rocket surgery. Overpriced solution looking for a problem.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

This is an interesting experiment, but it’s ultimately answering a question no one has asked. While Amazon continues to look for ways to automate ordering, consumers and businesses are resisting the push. Chalk it up to learning potential for the Big A.

Xavier Lederer
BrainTrust

Should this be Amazon’s top priority right now? The pandemic has challenged the core of the Amazon model, built around assortment breadth, low prices (or at least price parity), and fast (and free) delivery. The reliance on third party sellers worked great until COVID-19 disrupted supply chains. Prices of much-needed items have very publicly gone up, and delivery times have greatly increased – even for Prime customers. December will be a logistical nightmare. Amazon is growing fast, but so are their online competitors. The question is: when the pandemic is over, will Amazon’s marketshare in the online world have declined, grown, or stayed unchanged? Given the circumstances, ensuring to meet Amazon’s core customer needs seems more important than adding new technology.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Realize mine might be the contrarian view but IMHO, this is a case of a solution looking for a problem. Amazon wants customers to buy a shelf for each item which automatically order more items from Amazon. Perhaps for an office, but not sure it would make sense for a home even if the shelves were free.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Amazon is undoubtedly using this as a chance to learn, which is their MO for everything. I can see it adding a small amount of incremental value to certain businesses (I don’t see it working much for personal use); however, this isn’t a game-changer for anybody.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

Meh. I don’t think this will do much of anything in households, maybe somewhat more useful for SMBs. But as someone else mentioned, seems to be technology for technology’s sake, and I love tech, but this would have to be free for me to even look at it (and even then I don’t think I could train the others in the HH to use it).

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I think it’s great for business, not so great for consumer households."
"FAIL! Come on — this is technology for technology’s sake."
"First they have to get the price to zero — you should get this for free if you are a Prime customer."

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