Amazon Dash buttons have been ruled illegal in Germany for violating consumer protection legislation, reports Reuters. For the uninitiated, the buttons allow customers to order products, like laundry detergent, with just the push of the literal button, which is a Wifi connected device you can buy from Amazon for $4.99. The court determined that they obscure price information—you don’t know how much Amazon is selling that Tide for before you agree to buy it.
Dash buttons buttons are designed to look like a shopping tool that genuinely makes our lives easier, but they’re actually just tiny ads that live in our laundry rooms and medicine cabinets, both for products and for shopping at Amazon itself. They’re meant to make the labor of shopping so easy as to be “almost invisible,” Amazon’s director of Dash Buttons told Digital Trends in 2017. It’s such a comically convenient way to shop—you hang the detergent button in your laundry room and click it as soon as you realize you’re running low—that early coverage following their 2015 release wondered they could be an April Fool’s joke.
The buttons are supposed to be convenient. One of the ways they deliver on this promise is to eliminate any choice whatsoever—you push it and get exactly one product, from one brand. Set up your Lara Bar Dash button for the apple variety, and, unless you change the settings, it’s apple Lara Bars you’ll get with every push. But is such convenience worth it? What if you decide you want chocolate Lara bars? What if you want to switch from K-cups to generic coffee pods, or a reusable single-serving vessel with grounds? You have to go into Amazon and manually adjust the order, leaving you with more work than ordering through Amazon’s traditional interface to start. Veering off from predetermined options of product and shipping speed is a huge hassle.
Further, each button you purchase locks you into a brand—you can’t buy one that simply says “lotion,” you must choose from a small selection of brands that offer lotion like CeraVe or Neutrogena. This lock-in might explain why, according to the Wall Street Journal, companies pay Amazon $15 for each button for their products that’s sold (also, the buttons themselves look like tiny billboards).
The other problem is what if—as the German courts took issue with—the price of the single product your button orders suddenly jumps? You’ll have no idea until after you’ve pushed it. In this way, the Dash buttons are the epitome of the larger direction Amazon is nudging us in with shopping, toward the faster and easier at the expense of comparison shopping, tweaking orders, or thinking about if you really need something. This is the natural extension of a strategy that has already worked for the company—make using Amazon so convenient and cheap that eventually, people keep using it even as the prices creep back up.
In my experience, the buttons make more than price invisible. I bought a Dash button on sale for ninety-nine cents in summer 2016. (Remember that summer? America was stressed, but hopeful, and my default was to assume that the tech giant was doing something helpful for me.) The first time I pushed the button things went smoothly. The second, Amazon sent a case of toilet paper to my parents’ house. The next two times, I do not remember what happened, but my records show that both resulted in me being refunded for the toilet paper. Overall, the Dash button made my life more inconvenient. I stopped using it.