Innovations in technology make it easier and easier for us to spend less time on the hum drum routine tasks of life. Why waste our precious time buying toilet paper and laundry detergent? Auto-replenishment is the latest in smart home technology and has evolved quickly over the past few years.
Auto-replenishment requires just a little bit of setup, but doesn't require any effort after that to stay stocked up on necessities. This came to my attention through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign from Target. The Target Fetch pilot project allowed early adopters to purchase three smart products: a toilet paper spindle, a paper towel holder, and a soap pump for $12 each. The initial buy also came with a year-long subscription to the service for about $2 per month.
These three products have sensors that keep track of how much product customers are using. When the soap dispenser knows the customer is nearly out of soap, it automatically reorders the soap all by itself. The initial setup involves using the Fetch app to describe how much product you currently have, choose which product will be delivered and connecting the gadget via bluetooth. Customers can choose a payment method and shipping is free. The three devices run on batteries, and for now when the those are running low, the gadget will automatically reorder its own batteries and you'll receive them free of charge. Product testing starts in October.
This idea wowed me. I thought there was nothing else even close to this intuitive offered for consumers. I was wrong.
Amazon introduced something similar in 2015 called Dash Replenishment Services (DRS). It allows brands to incorporate auto-replenishment into their products. So a Whirlpool washing machine can automatically order its own laundry detergent, and an HP printer can order its own ink before it runs out.
Brands like Samsung and GE are also using the Dash Replenishment option in some of their products. Customers receive an email letting them know their device has reordered product, and cancellation is an option within 24 hours. The current problem I see is there isn't one place to find out which brands have Dash Replenishment Capabilities. If you wanted to deck out your home with tons of auto-replenishment gadgets, it takes a lot of searching.
Katie Kyle with Amazon Public Relations said there are numerous device makers in the program.
"When we initially introduced Dash and DRS, we can imagine a future when your home knows when it needs to reorder household essentials," she explained. "That could be coffee, but also things like an air filter for your HVAC. With Dash Replenishment, you don't have to worry about it. It's already pre-organized when you set up your air filter. It's actually able to measure the particulates going through the filter, so it knows when it needs a new filter."
Kyle said all of Amazon's auto-replenishment options are to help simplify life.
"Then customers can focus on other things that are more important," she said.
Getting to this hands-off type of reordering has taken some time. Initially, some companies offered subscriptions for certain products customers ordered over and over again. Users would opt to receive the same toilet paper order every three weeks for a slight discount. This was a nice option, but sometimes customers weren't ready for more toilet paper in three weeks. Or worse, sometimes customers would run out before the new toilet paper arrived.
Amazon introduced the wireless Dash button for Prime members in 2015. These buttons are about the size of a pack of gum and are labeled with a brand name (Cascade, Tide, Charmin, etc.). Customers set them up through an app, assigning a specific order to each button. When a Dash user starts running out of that particular item, they can just push the Dash button and whatever order is pre-assigned goes straight to Amazon. There are hundreds of buttons available, each costing $4.99, but that cost is credited back to your account with the first order.
These seem to be doing pretty well. Amazon tells Techcrunch that for some brands (Goldfish, Folgers, Ziploc), more than half of their orders are coming from Dash buttons.
While I appreciate this idea, there are only certain (hidden) places in my home where I'd allow these plastic buttons to live. On the side of the washing machine or in my pantry might be okay, but I wouldn't want one out in the open. And these could be a big problem for those with small children. We all know how kids love pushing buttons. Amazon does alert customers when someone pushes the button, allowing them to cancel any mistakes.
Amazon gave consumers the next great option for ordering with even less effort in 2016 with its smart home assistant, Alexa. You simply ask Alexa to order something and she'll search through Prime-eligible items from your order history, then you can confirm or cancel the order. Amazon also gives customers the option of requiring a confirmation code before every order. I'm guessing this comes in handy so kids can't ask Alexa to order Pop-Tarts every single day.
At this point, customers have many options to easily reorder lots of products. We have buttons, voice assistants and now gadgets that reorder whatever product they need all by themselves. Looks like it's only a matter of time until consumers will never run out of anything ever again.