Amazon has come up with some pretty odd ideas over the years: delivery inside your car, a talking tablet for your kitchen counter, and even an action series starring that guy from The Office.
One of the concepts that best captures the quirky imagination of the world's largest online retailer is the Dash button, a handy (and kind of ridiculous) device you press to reorder stuff like dog food, bottled water or septic treatment powder.
But the usefulness and novelty of Dash buttons has waned over the years, and Amazon said Thursday that it had decided to stop selling the gadgets globally. If you still proudly use a Dash button (or a few dozen), don't worry: Amazon plans to continue supporting new orders through existing Dash buttons so long as the public keeps using them.
So what killed the Dash button's future? Well, by Amazon's telling, the device was a victim of its own success, since it helped nudge forward the concept of the connected home to what it is today.
Daniel Rausch, an Amazon vice president who helped grow the Dash program from its start, said that back in early 2015, when the Dash button first came out, there were far fewer options for connected home gadgets. Amazon workers were trying to figure out a way "to make shopping disappear" for grocery list items like paper towels and printer ink and whatever else is pretty not-fun to go out and buy, Rausch said.
They landed on Dash buttons as a speedy jury-rig to add a bit of internet connectivity to an appliance that didn't have it, like throwing a Dash button for laundry detergent on your washing machine.
People seemed to like these goofy little buttons, which Amazon offered for $5 each up front, reimbursing that money after the first purchase using the button. Brands liked them as a way of reinforcing customer loyalty and affixing mini ads for their wares in people's bathrooms and linen closets.
Over the past four years, Amazon has created dozens of Dash buttons for items including Soylent meal replacement drinks, Schiff Glucosamine joint supplements and Slim Jims. The company shipped millions of these tiny buttons. Rausch said the most popular Dash buttons were for necessities that folks run out of a lot, like paper towels, toilet paper and bottled water. Other less predictable hits included items that required trips to specialty stores (pet food) or were annoying to find (printer ink) or a little embarrassing to buy in a store (condoms).
"Dash button was an awesome stepping stone into the world of connected home," Rausch said, later adding, "We never imagined a future where customers had 500 buttons in their home. We imagined a future where the home was taking care of itself, including replenishing everyday items that customers would rather not worry about."
The Dash button isn't nearly as necessary as it used to be. Today, plenty more appliances connect to the internet. Amazon also integrated its Dash Replenishment Service into hundreds of products from major manufacturers like Whirlpool and Samsung worldwide. DRS lets appliances automatically reorder the stuff they need, like a printer purchasing new ink. No need to even push a button.
Plus, Amazon created virtual Dash buttons on its website and developed voice shopping through its Alexa voice assistant, which have both grown in popularity, Amazon says.
There's no need to cry over the demise of Dash buttons. Instead, the next time you reorder bread via voice from your toaster (that's a thing now, right?), you can quietly thank Dash buttons for encouraging the creation of more smart-home gear.
"There's no doubt," Rausch said, "that that core mission of Dash buttons succeeded."