As many successful products and services as Amazon has launched over the last few years, sometimes it seems like Jeff Bezos must have a magic wand. It turns out, in fact, that he does, and now he’s making it available to select Amazon Fresh customers, too.
Gizmodo has the word about the new “Amazon Dash,” a wand-shaped device that incorporates a bar code scanner and a microphone with speech recognition (undoubtedly the same speech recognition as Amazon just introduced in the Amazon Fire TV), along with WiFi connectivity, to allow people to add things to their Amazon Fresh grocery delivery list instantaneously. Once they’re done scanning, they go to the Amazon Fresh web site or mobile app to finalize and pay for the order, and then it’s delivered to their door in distinctive Amazon Fresh reusable grocery bags within a day or so.
Of course, there’s not exactly anything new about this. You can trace its ancestry back 14 years to the “CueCat” computer-connected bar code scanner that Radio Shack (erroneously) thought was such a neat idea back in 2000. And I have little doubt that, as long as smartphones have been able to read bar codes with their cameras, there have been apps that allow people to make shopping lists with them—including Amazon’s own mobile shopping apps.
In fact, grocery delivery service Peapod has its own Android and iOS app that would do effectively the same thing as this wand—let you scan grocery items with your phone and then buy them. The voice search might be a cute gee-whiz gimmick, but this isn’t a case like the Fire TV where the alternative is plunking out your search term letter by letter like you’re entering a high score in an eighties arcade game; scanning a bar code is dead simple and also a lot more specific. You can actually specify which brand of toilet paper or chocolate chips you want at the time.
No, the true “magic” in this wand is its connection to Amazon, the amazingly consumer-friendly Walt Disney of e-commerce who in consumers’ eyes can do no wrong and turns everything it touches into gold. The only reason that grocery stores (or competing delivery services like Peapod) shouldn’t worry yet is that the service area where the thing is available and works is currently so small. But you can bet that’s going to be changing.
Dash is currently available by invitation only—and Amazon Fresh is currently only available in Seattle, San Francisco, and southern California, which would tend to limit the service’s utility to most people. And it also costs $300 a year, though includes Amazon Prime as well at no extra charge. (Peapod, on the other hand, operates right here in Indianapolis, and charges around $6 to $10 per delivery, so I might just be trying it out before long, once I’m moved into my new apartment.) But it’s pretty clear what market Amazon has set its sights on now. And presumably once it has built up enough experience in its trial markets, Fresh might just be rolling out in a lot more places across the country, and perhaps making it cheaper, too.
I hope grocery chains are learning from big publishing’s current travails and figuring out now what they’re going to do to survive being disrupted when the big bad Amazon wolf knocks on their doors. You can be almost certain that it’s not a matter of if, but when.