All About Amazon's Dash Buttons

Do these hardware gadgets improve the online shopping experience?

Amazon dash buttons
Amazon.com

If you ever shop online with Amazon, chances are you've seen ads for the company's Dash buttons. It might be less clear, however, exactly what these devices do — and whether they qualify as a necessary purchase based on your shopping needs and habits. Keep reading to learn all about Amazon Dash and to see how, it if at all, you can maximize this product type to streamline and simplify your online shopping.

The Basic Idea Behind Dash

Amazon's Dash buttons are keychain-sized devices that include — surprise, surprise — a hardware button. The essential idea with Dash is to make it quick and easy to reorder your favorite, most-used products from Amazon; you can simply press on the Dash and a new order will be submitted.

The company bills its Dash offering as a "replenishment service," and each button corresponds to a specific product available on Amazon, so you can't order multiple types of items from one Dash. That's why you'll see dozens and dozens of uniquely branded Dash buttons when you visit the Dash landing page on Amazon.

Note that Amazon also offers virtual Dash buttons, which operate under the same premise of making it easy to re-order your essentials from the site. But with this version of the service, you don't have a hardware Dash gadget to press; instead, you can click on an on-screen shortcut to re-order any item that Amazon identifies as one of your favorites.

How Dash Buttons Work

First of all, note that you need an Amazon Prime membership to get access to a Dash button, both of the hardware and virtual varieties. This will set you back $99 per year or $10.99 per month, and the benefits include free same-day or two-day delivery on a variety of items, access to the Prime Music streaming service, video streaming, discounts through the Amazon Family subscription service and more.

There is a cost to buy each physical Amazon Dash button: $4.99 a pop. The company does try to make this more palatable by offering you a $4.99 credit after you place your first order to buy an item with your new button. This means you wouldn't necessarily want to buy a Dash button unless you're absolutely certain you'll be reordering its associated product more than once, though.

The hardware gadgets are Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled and battery-powered, and they work when connected with your smartphone. To get started, you'll want to download the Amazon Shopping app for Android or iOS. Then, you need to connect your Dash button to Wi-Fi and specify which product you'd like to buy when you press the hardware button.

Conveniently, Amazon will let you choose from a variety of size options (or color or scent options, if applicable). See this page on Amazon's site for step-by-step instructions on getting set up with a physical Dash button.

Amazon recommends that you hang or mount your physical Dash button in a location that makes sense based on where you use and/or store the related product. Of course, it's in the company's interest for you to keep the Dash button in a place where you'll never forget to use it.

It is worth taking the time to find a place for the button that keeps it out of reach of a toddler or anyone else who might errantly press and send your Amazon orders tally skyrocketing, though.

As for the virtual Amazon Dash buttons, you can skip the process of ordering a physical device and needing to pair it with your smartphone to get up and running. In fact, if you ever order products more than once with the company, there's a good chance you already have plenty of automatically created digital buttons to access.

You can view your options by heading to the Your Dash Buttons page on Amazon, and you can organize, add and remove them — as well as make purchases by clicking on the white circle labeled "Buy" on each button.

If there's an item you'd like to add as a virtual Dash button, you can do so directly from the product details page of anything that's available with Prime shipping.

If you're just starting to play around with virtual Dash buttons, it's very easy to accidentally order something — as I learned the hard way — but thankfully Amazon is aware of this fact as well and lets you cancel an errant order for free for up to 30 minutes after the purchase is received (or, as a general rule, before they've been marked as "Shipping Soon"). You can also access your virtual dash buttons and press them to submit orders via the Amazon smartphone app.

The Pros of Amazon Dash

Obviously, the advantage to having an Amazon Dash button is that re-ordering an essential product is convenient. It's like Amazon's one-click ordering option taken to the next level; once your payment and delivery settings are specified, you can literally get your shopping done with the press of a button.

If you're an organized person who can effectively arrange the Dash buttons in your living space in a way that means you never run out of essential products, this service could also be useful. 

The Cons of Amazon Dash

While there are some clear benefits to using the reordering shortcuts offered by a physical or digital Dash button, there are potential drawbacks as well. As Time explained, the Amazon Dash service encourages customers to get into a constant groove of re-ordering products, which could mean that you're not taking a step back to think about whether you truly need a certain item. 

Another potential downside is less competitive prices. This will vary from item to item, but some Dash users have reported paying significantly higher rates when ordering a product through the buttons compared to ordering the same item through its page on Amazon. It only complicates the issue that Amazon Dash buttons don't display prices — you're essentially reordering a product blindly.

Tips for Using Dash Buttons Effectively

Ultimately, whether a Dash button makes sense for you will depend on how you typically shop with Amazon and how well you're able to organize your purchases. You'll need to evaluate your shopping patterns and your specific needs to decide how, if at all, a virtual or physical Dash button can fit into your Amazon experience, but if you're on the fence, consider these tips for tailoring the service to your needs:

  • Enable order notifications — One of the biggest potential traps with Amazon Dash buttons is how easily someone could accidentally submit orders with unintentional button-pressing. Luckily, you can ensure that you know any time an order goes through by adjusting your notification preferences. Just go to your settings, then "Notification Options" and adjust things so that you're never surprised when you see your credit card bill or a package that arrives in the mail.
  • Keep them in the perfect place — Each physical Amazon Dash button ships with a reusable adhesive, so you can stick them on a wall or other surface that makes sense depending on the product type. There's also an included, removable hook, so you can hang the gadgets as well.
  • Stay up to date on your order's progress — While you can always check the latest status of an order through your Amazon account on the desktop or via your smartphone app, you can also confirm that an order went through via the hardware dash button. When you press the gadget to make an order, the order status indicator will light up as green if the purchase went through, or it will light up as red if the order was unsuccessful due to a billing issue or some other problem.
  • Get hacking — If you're a programmer or particularly tech-savvy, you could check out the AWS IoT Button, which is essentially a Dash button that can be configured to call a cab, open your garage door, call a specified contact, unlock or start a car and much more. It's nice to see that Amazon's acknowledging the uses of its unique device beyond order products through its site, even though ordering this specialized gadget for $19.95 won't make sense for the average user.

Bottom Line

Amazon is a giant in the online retail space, and it's consistently living up to that reputation by innovating the shopping experience. Its Dash buttons are a great example of how the company is streamlining the ordering process, and it's great that it's built into certain safeguards such as the ability to cancel errant orders. 

However, not everyone needs a Dash button to stay on top of their shopping list — and it's probably wise to test out the virtual version before forking over $4.99 for a hardware button. This way you'll be able to see if you use them at all, since you won't get your $4.99 credit back until you make one purchase with a physical button.