Amazon Dash? Wouldn't Smarter Mobile Shopping Lists Be Better?

Very interesting to see Carling team up with Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's to launch its own "Beer Button." Had it been April 1st, it might have been written off as a prank press release, but as we are more than half a year away from spoofs, it has to be taken seriously for a very good reason -- it's a great example of brands not just giving in to Amazon.

However, it also begs the question of where the Internet of Things (IoT) is in all of this. I blow hot and cold on the whole idea of everything being connected. It always seems to be happening far more in conferences than in vending machines at rail stations and fridges in homes that I ever frequent. Sometimes I'm convinced my wine bottle will tell me where it came from, what grapes were used and how I could order more. Other times I'm equally convinced that all I have to do is read the label on the back of the bottle and then log on and press a button to order some more. Does the "thing" actually have to talk to me to make me want to buy it again?

And while we're at it, if the IoT is such a big thing, why do I need a button from Amazon to get some new detergent and fabric conditioner? If everything is connected, shouldn't a bottle of Persil and Lenor be on their way to me the moment I'm getting low? If the tech is too expensive to put in bottles, shouldn't the washing machine be measuring how much I have used and warning me that I need to click to place an order right away or the sports kit will go unwashed this weekend?

This brings me to another question, and this one is the most puzzling for me. Forgive me if you're a start-up with an app that does this, and I have yet to come across you, but why on earth don't supermarkets bring in an IoT of their own? I certainly have not come across a feature offered by the major supermarkets that lets you snap a brand name or scan in a barcode to add it to your shopping list. If I have missed it, I apologise to that retailer, but then would simply ask the same question of those who have yet to allow me to build a smart shopping list with them. Why should it always be a case of going through a million products they think i might like and i've bought before without allowing me to have already selected items at the press of a camera or QR scanner button during the week. 

The example used in all this is always the wrong one. People talk about running out of loo roll or milk. These are pretty pressing requirements and are easily solved by being very non-digital and walking to the corner shop. The IoT won't change this, but for general produce, why not have a camera function to add a pic of a label or scan of a barcode to be added to a list stored within a supermarket's app? Why the need to treat each item as a separate entity that needs to be ordered immediately from Amazon? If the product is that urgent, can you wait another day for it, or is it simpler to pop to the shop to get coriander and cumin for tonight's curry? Obviously, a Dash button works well for products you're used to buying on the own such as printer ink or DvDs, but I'd suggest most produce falls in to two camps. It's either so vital you've got to run to the corner store or it can wait for the weekly shop.

So as far as I'm concerned, while gurus conjure up more exciting IoT scenarios that rarely grip me, the supermarkets are the ones that need to react to the Dash button with a kind of IoT of their own that allows products to be added to shopping lists by photo or scan one item at a time, rather than focus on a button that order one item immediately.

This column was previously published in the London Blog on September 6, 2016.

2 comments about "Amazon Dash? Wouldn't Smarter Mobile Shopping Lists Be Better?".
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  1. Bill Jackson from EPAM/Empathy Lab, September 20, 2016 at 1:57 p.m.

    I completely agree with Sean. But there are a couple of layers to this challenge - 1) Allowing multiple users in the family to add an item to a single family list, with different devices. 2) Having a UPC list which includes more than just your (grocery) items - because not all grocery items in a household are bought in one store - so you need to recognize the foreign UPC and be able to offer an alternative and/or allow the user to add a competitor item to an "other" area of the list - realizing that some people by certain grocery types from specific groceries and will NEVER switch to your brands (especailly meats, pet food items and produce. 3) You, the grocer should be able to estimate when certain items are gone, but not scanned (based on product expiration dates and/or the season and the type of product): If family X buys a certian type of laundry detergent every six weeks and it has been six weeks and no scan, prompt them to add it to the list - same with milk, same with schoool lunchables, etc - smart suggestions will allow the user to more quicly REMOVE items the probalby need rather than manually add items the probably need, but have not yet scanned - it is a fine line - but can be tackled.

  2. Nicholas Fiekowsky from (personal opinion), September 20, 2016 at 3:26 p.m.

    I agree that a generalized ordering solution would be more powerful.

    Amazon Echo does a lot of this.

    Semi-automated, "Alexa! Add Bon Ami to the shopping list." Will appear on our shopping list even if partner is en route or in store.

    Fully automated with delayed shipment, "Alexa! Add Bon Ami to the cart." Product is added to our Amazon shopping cart, to be shipped when we submit the order.

    Fully automated with immediate shipment, "Alexa! Order Bon Ami." 

    I'm a geek. Alexa also controls many lights, can turn the TV or radio on/off.

    My hard-core non-tech spouse gave me the Amazon Echo as a birthday gift earlier this year. I've been entertained learning how to integrate it into our house. There's a printed list of commands, organized by category, next to the Echo. My wife constantly uses Alexa for timer, media streaming, shopping list, lights and entertainment system.

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