Is Amazon Dash the Magic Wand for Grocery Lists?

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Dash seems like a clever idea for streamlined shopping, but is it really solving anything?

Like Google, Amazon has so much money it can afford to test just about any little pet project it can imagine. It’s why the retail giant has ventured into everything from original web series to organic produce. It’s also why you shouldn’t rule out the company’s ambitions for automated drone delivery.

But, if we're being honest, Amazon’s latest brainchild is kind of silly. Dash, as it’s called, is a Wiimote-sized plastic “wand” meant to simplify your grocery list. An offshoot of AmazonFresh, it features a barcode scanner that allows you to scan household items to automatically add them to your account. You can also add items by speaking directly into the microphone, provided the item is actually available on Amazon.

The idea is to give consumers more streamlined access to Amazon services, and to assist in the gradual accumulation of grocery items. Through a Wi-Fi connection, Dash compiles your shopping list on your AmazonFresh account, from which you also confirm the purchase and schedule the delivery.

“Keep it on your kitchen counter or hang it on the refrigerator,” Amazon explains on its site. “Did your kids just eat the last of the cereal? Conveniently refill and restock your home's everyday essentials, and have fun doing it.”

Right now, Dash is only available with AmazonFresh, which itself is only available in Southern California, San Francisco, and Seattle.

On the surface, Dash seems pretty nifty, but when you actually think about it, it’s about as useless as a laptop printer. Why do you need a standalone “wand” for an operation that is perfectly feasible with today’s smartphones? Barcode readers are available alongside QR readers in the Android and iOS app stores, and just about every phone worth its weight in salt has a decent microphone.

Furthermore, the fact that you have to actually log on to Amazon from a computer or mobile device to confirm the purchases all but voids the convenience pitch.

Why do you need a standalone “wand” for an operation that is perfectly feasible with today’s smartphones?
To be fair, Dash boasts some clever functionality. You can easily imagine the benefits to elderly or disabled consumers—folks who are immobilized and averse to using computers, but also may not be able to travel to grocery stories regularly. Even then, however, they would need someone—perhaps a caretaker—to confirm their purchases online.

Another, more discreet possibility of Dash could be its doubling as a comparative shopping guide. Imagine bringing this thing to the mall or grocery store and scanning items to check their price or availability on Amazon. But that sounds like a travel-intensive hassle for minimal savings—not to mention, you can once again just do this with your phone.

Maybe there’s an aspect to Dash we’re not considering, but it looks like an example of Amazon just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. But hey, if you got the cash, what's there to lose?

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