Dashed hopes: Amazon's (mostly) failed plan for in-home payments

Amazon's Dash devices were an early, blunt take on the internet of things. Originally released as plastic buttons sold for $5 a pop, they allowed Amazon customers to order a predetermined product (whose brand was emblazoned on the button) without having to sit at a computer or open an app.

The idea evolved since the product's 2015 launch — when some mistook it for an April Fool's joke — and some iterations still exist, but over the years Amazon has gradually phased out its Dash product line in favor of voice-based Alexa shopping and other alternatives.

The latest nail in Dash's coffin is the news that Amazon will end support for the current version of its Dash Wand in July.

This story was compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald, David Heun, Michael Moeser and Daniel Wolfe.

The original 'buy button'
Amazon Dash button
Dash buttons were small plastic WiFi buttons that can be placed anywhere to reorder kitchen supplies, laundry soap and more. The idea was to place them in cupboards to reorder mac & cheese, or in the bathroom to reorder toilet paper — the sorts of items that people might only think to buy when they notice they're running out.

The buttons were a hit among brands, as each one was tied to a specific brand's product line and bore its logo, and Amazon quickly added new products to the Dash catalog. However, Dash eventually became more of a placeholder for more advanced in-home shopping technology.

As Amazon worked on developing more in-home technology, it had less use for Dash buttons. Why use a separate button to reorder printer toner when the printer can do that on its own? By 2019, Amazon had decided to discontinue Dash buttons.
amazon mobile commerce
The Amazon.com Inc. application is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPhone and iPad in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. Amazon.com unveiled a new security tool for cloud customers last week, part of a slew of product announcements designed to fend off competition from Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.'s Google and others in the fast-growing cloud computing market. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
In 2017, Amazon was still trying to figure out what to do with Dash. The technology was popular with partners, but perhaps still too clunky for consumers.

Amazon's solution to this conundrum was to digitize Dash. Rather than require consumers to buy $5 plastic buttons for each brand, Amazon added virtual renditions of Dash to its mobile app and website.

Consumers in 2020 would have to do some digging, but they can still find virtual Dash buttons generated for products they've previously ordered. Amazon gives far more prominence to other options for reordering food and toiletries, such as its "subscribe and save" option or Alexa reminders.
All in the wrist
Amazon dash wand
Amazon's Dash buttons weren't the first form factor for Amazon's Dash concept. The original Dash was a handheld baton that could scan bar codes and use voice commands to reorder kitchen supplies and toiletries. This device made a comeback in 2017 but was recently discontinued.

The re-imagined Dash Wand had the same functionality as the 2014 version, adding Alexa access and a streamlined checkout process. The new version was also essentially free to Amazon Prime subscribers, who got a $20 credit after activating the $20 Dash wand.

The scan-your-own-groceries model makes some sense in grocery stores that are trying to streamline checkout, but wasn't as magical an experience in the home. Plus, the Alexa capability is duplicated by many more popular devices such as Amazon's Echo speakers, making the 2017 Dash Wand's flagship feature far less useful to Amazon's most devoted shoppers.
Secret ingredient
whirlpool laundry machine
A top loading washing machines moves down the assembly line at the Whirlpool Corp. manufacturing facility in Clyde, Ohio, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. The U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release business inventories figures on December 11. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg
By 2018, Amazon had decided that Dash maybe wasn't meant to be a standalone product. It developed an "open" Virtual Dash Button Service, or a software development kit for third parties to place virtual dash buttons on connected devices with screens.

Whirlpool, LG and Samsung were among the first to use the service, and many products sold on Amazon still integrate Dash for resupplying printers, coffee makers, robot vacuums and more.
A toy for hackers?
Amazon box
A red light scans a parcel on a conveyor belt inside an Amazon.com Inc. fulfilment center in Koblenz, Germany, on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. Germans are expected to buy about 2.4 billion euros worth of goods on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, an increase of about 15 percent over last year. Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg
The simplicity and low cost of Dash buttons made them appealing to hackers. At its heart, a Dash button was simply a device that could send a command over WiFi at the press of a button. By 2015, hackers had already figured out how to delete Amazon's code and replace it with their own.

The only snag was that hackers still needed to activate their Dash buttons via the Amazon app before they could modify them. With Amazon sunsetting support for physical Dash buttons, that also put a timeline on the product's hackability.

Even so, modified Dash buttons had a limited lifespan, given that they weren't meant to allow consumers to replace their batteries.