Why the Amazon Dash Wand could bring down big box retailers

Online sales are rising, but a new device could spur them even more.

dash wand
Amazon

Consumers are cutting out the middleman, and it’s looking more like the middleman is Walmart.

Online sales rose about 15% last year, according to the U.S. Commerce department. The total haul was around $400 billion, or 8% of all retail sales for the year.

When I worked in IT at a large consumer electronics retailer, we used to say that online sales were infinitesimal -- the equivalent of one or two stores in an entire chain. That’s not true anymore. Amazon sales were around 27% of all retail sales, thanks in part to the free two-day and a bot called Alexa, which makes the entire process ultra smooth.

With the Amazon Dash Wand, things will get even smoother. Like the pizza chain Domino’s offering countless ways to place an order (by Twitter, for example), Amazon wants us to use the Wand to scan the barcode of products we already own and have that item arrive two days later.

Consumers are not that interested in the “shopping experience” at big box retailers anymore. They want low prices and convenience. The Wand lets you talk to Alexa as well, and it costs $20 (you get a $20 credit to order products, so it’s essentially free). If the Wand eventually reads our minds, it will cut out yet another step. For big box retailers, this is a moment of doom and gloom. We’re all too busy to go to Walmart now. Our phones are small computers that can help us with complex tasks. Wi-Fi is everywhere, and it’s extremely fast. Online just works for many people.

More than anything, there’s something “in the air” with bots. We’re starting to trust them more. If I talk to Alexa on the Wand or using the Echo speaker and ask about printer paper, I’ll assume the voicebot can understand what I want or even re-order the item I purchased last month. Eventually, Alexa we will anticipate my needs, knowing I have been printing a lot or using up a lot of coffee. I’ll give the bot permission to re-order those supplies automatically.

At that point, why go to the store? Usually, it’s to comparison shop, but that’s also easier online. I have not bought a pair of shoes in a retail store in about three years. I already know the brand I like and my size. I hate waiting in line. I hate small talk with cashiers. Mall shopping is still vibrant because of the experience involved, but retailing is changing. Bots will do the shopping for us, suggesting products we like and are within our budget. They’ll even tell us when we’re about to overspend. They can’t browse the aisle at Target yet, but they can easily browse online.

With the Wand, it’s simply another tool for making online shopping easier. It’s not a groundbreaking device on its own, and you could argue a smartphone is a much better device for scanning barcodes and talking to bots, but there’s nothing stopping someone from having four or six Wands around their home, one in the kitchen, the living room, and every other room.

I’ll report back once I’ve had a chance to test one more, comparing the results with the same time investment and pricing you’d expect to find at a big box retailer.

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