clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Amazon's Magic Wand and the Unrelenting Race to Make Shopping More Convenient

In Bezos's empire, faster is always better.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

In the last two months, Amazon has spotlighted two new products that allow shoppers to add items to their shopping list without ever typing anything into a search bar. This isn’t a coincidence.

The most recent one is Amazon Dash — a thin, wand-like device, revealed on Friday, that includes both a microphone and a barcode scanner. Speak into it or scan a box of cereal or pack of toilet paper to automatically add that product to your AmazonFresh shopping list. For now, it is available only on a trial basis to Amazon customers in San Francisco and Los Angeles who pay for Amazon’s new Prime Fresh membership, which includes grocery delivery.

Before Dash, Amazon announced in February that it was adding a technology called Flow to its main shopping app on mobile phones. A user taps on the Flow feature in the app, points the phone at a product in their home — say, a book or a bottle of shampoo — and Flow is supposed to quickly display the product page on the phone’s screen.

Both Dash and Flow seem a bit gimmicky now. And I have no idea whether either will ever move past that stage and toward mass adoption. But they are both signs that Amazon is seriously thinking about how to remove as much friction as possible for people who are looking to buy a specific item from Amazon, but are on the move and not sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen.

In an interview earlier this week, Paul Cousineau, Amazon’s director of mobile shopping, said that his division spends a lot of time thinking about how to make it easier for shoppers using touchscreen devices to quickly find the products on Amazon they want to buy.

“If you never had to type again on a phone that would be great,” he said. “We want you to go from ‘I want that’ to ‘I bought that’ in 30 seconds or 10 seconds … a very short period of time.”

And the hope is that Flow will eventually lead Amazon to that future. “I’d like to see this be our primary search model,” he said of the Flow technology.

As for the Amazon Dash device, it’s a different approach to the same company goal of giving its shoppers the quickest path to load a bunch of goods into their shopping cart wherever they might be. Is it that hard to look in your cabinet at the brand of pasta you are running low on, and then search for it on Amazon at the laptop on your kitchen table? No, not even close. But, thanks in large part to Amazon, we are living in a time where speed and convenience in shopping often seem to trump all, for better or worse. And Amazon is placing a small bet that using the Dash device will be quicker and more convenient.

If it’s not, we’ve still learned two things about Amazon’s approach. First, if there were any remaining doubts that Amazon is dead serious about expanding its grocery business, they should now be gone. And second, the company is investing time and money into planning for a future where the search bar on Amazon websites and apps becomes the less convenient shopping tool.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.