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Amazon’s Dash buttons are perhaps the company’s most overt effort to make you forget that buying something actually means handing over your hard-earned money. Now, someone is finally calling BS.
A German court has ruled that the Dash buttons violate consumer protection laws, Reuters reports.
Amazon debuted Dash buttons in 2015. They are small adhesive devices, emblazoned with a product logo and connected to the Amazon app, that let customers place an order for a single item just by pushing a button. For example, a button placed next to your paper towel roll would allow you to buy your favored brand of paper towels with the push of a button as soon as you’re out. You can, of course, buy Dash buttons on Amazon.
The devices might be convenient. But the problem, according to the Munich court, is that the buttons don’t display any information about how much the item connected to the button actually costs. Therefore it breaks the consumer protection law that states that consumers have to be fully informed about the product they’re purchasing.
Germany’s consumer protection watchdog brought the case against Amazon, and says it is advocating for customers who complained. Amazon plans to fight the decision, saying customers should have the choice over whether or not to use the buttons. Germany is Amazon’s second biggest market (after North America), and Europe’s largest economy, so Amazon has plenty of skin in the game.
Amazon’s Dash buttons are part of its strategy to remove as many steps as possible between browsing for a product and actually buying something. The company patented 1-click buying back in 1999, but it has since expired.
If you get consumers to skip the cart altogether, they have less time to consider whether they really want the product
But the 1-click buying concept still permeates the Amazon ecosystem: the “Buy Now” button on Amazon.com lets you skip the shopping cart, Amazon continues to push shopping with Alexa, and it has over 600 brands connected to Dash buttons. It also rolled out digital versions of the Dash buttons in 2017 that can appear in your Amazon app or even on your connected home appliances, like a smart fridge. And it has taken instant shopping further into the physical world with its cashier-less Amazon Go stores.
The impulse makes sense: I have abandoned items in my shopping cart many, many times. But if you get consumers to skip the cart altogether, they have less time to consider whether they really want the product, and whether it’s worth the money. That’s because shopping is often an emotional decision, and not necessarily a rational one, according to market research. So removing the barriers to buying — i.e., opportunities for self-reflection and critical thought — translates to more sales.
But that’s not actually the German court’s main issue with the Dash buttons. The ultimate problem was that the buttons connect to certain brands of products; Bounty, not paper towels. So in addition to not getting to see the price of the product, customers also don’t have the opportunity to compare prices. That’s where Dash buttons ran afoul of the law.
Amazon told Reuters that it plans to contest the ruling through legal channels. It went with the favored tech industry one-two counter-attack that the ruling both “stifles innovation” and removes consumer choices.