Amazon's Dash Buttons are something of an oddity. Does anyone really need a dedicated piece of hardware to buy a particular brand of cat litter or baby wipes? Just how hard is it to go to a shop, or to order something online? Has it really come to this?
Still, this week Amazon has added another 20 of the buttons in the UK, taking the total to 65 -- in the US that number is significantly larger.
The UK expansion will see the likes of Mentos, Wellwoman, Mr Muscle and Duracell available to consumers at the press of a button.
Dash Buttons, which first went on sale in the UK last year, are wi-fi-connected devices that allow customers to order a particular products by pressing a button: each button costs £4.99, but customers also get a £4.99 discount after their first press.
The button is set up to order one particular product and the customer is sent an order notification for every order placed, allowing the order to be cancelled before it is delivered. The button cannot be used to place another order until the initial order has arrived.
Odd or not, the buttons do fit rather nicely with Amazon's subtle strategy of making money from making our homes smarter -- or at least, smart enough.
Take Amazon's Fire TV Stick, which updates older TVs for the streaming video era. The customer is happy because they've upgraded their TV at lower cost than buying a new one, so they might consider splashing out some of the money saved on some streaming video services. That, of course, means Amazon has a good chance of converting the user into an Amazon Prime Video fan (and then perhaps into an Amazon Prime user) as a result.
Dash Buttons might seem silly, but they also make your kitchen (or bathroom, or wherever you keep them) slightly smarter. Washing machines and fridges have a slow replacement cycle: we replace them when they break and not before, which might be a decade or more. That's nothing like the two or three year replacement cycle you see with smartphones and laptops.
So it's going to be a long time before everyone has a full set of smart appliances.
The Dash Buttons are an easy way to add a little bit of intelligence to devices that don't need to be that smart, anyway. You don't need to have a conversation with your dishwasher, but it would be handy if it could reorder detergent when it runs out. Dash Buttons get you close to that with a trivial outlay, while Amazon gets to lock you into shopping as a service with a piece of inexpensive hardware.
Dash Buttons are also attractive to brands: it's much harder for customers to stray if they get into the habit of pressing a button whenever they get short on a particular thing, and if customers always have their usual brand in stock they're much less likely to experiment with alternatives.
"When we first launched the Whiskas Dash Button it was so popular we saw the button sell out in the first 24 hours. It's given our customers a simple way of shopping that makes their lives easier and ensures that their cats never go without Whiskas." said Gina Head, Senior Brand Manager, Whiskas Pouch.
New brands in the UK include Duracell, Glade, Heineken, IAMS, Joseph Joseph, Kiwi, L'Or, Mentos, Mr. Muscle, Perfect Fit, Regina, Scott, Tassimo, Wellman and Wellwoman.
Amazon hasn't revealed how many Dash buttons have been sold or how they are doing, but in October last year the company said it had seen orders increase by five times over the previous year, and that the majority of Amazon orders are made via Dash Button for popular items from brands such as Hefty, Peet's Coffee, and Arm & Hammer.
Big cities have proved to be the most open to Dash Buttons in the UK so far, with London, Manchester and Edinburgh leading the way for orders. Popular items purchased through Dash Buttons include toilet paper, cat food, washing capsules, cat litter, dishwasher tablets and baby wipes.
According to Amazon these are the top Dash Button brands since launch last year: