Amazon announced it will release the Amazon Dash Smart Shelf, a shelf that automatically reorders office supplies, in 2020. The shelf features a smart weighing scale that detects when the items placed on it – such as paper, pens or seletape – are running low, and auto-orders more. The shelf is designed for small US businesses (at launch users will need a US business license to purchase one) and Amazon will offer 15% off selected items that are auto-ordered via the shelf.
Pretty smart (sorry). Here are two takeaways:
A-COMMERCE. This is yet another great example of a hugely powerful retail trend: one we’ve been tracking for a while. A-COMMERCE (where the A stands for automated) is seeing rising numbers expect the ability to outsource key retail tasks – think hunting for the right product, negotiating the best price, or, yes, re-ordering essentials – to AIs and smart assistants. So here are the multi-billion dollar questions for the retail industry, and indeed for any brand. When AIs make purchasing decisions on behalf of their humans, what does it mean to be a brand? How can we stand out – and get chosen – in a world of automated commerce?
People Out There. Yes, this is an example of automation. But it’s also a reminder that new technologies are deployed in specific social contexts – and those contexts matter. It won’t surprise you to learn that typically women are saddled with more ‘office housework’: non-career-boosting tasks like planning work parties, taking lunch orders and yes, restocking office supplies. This smart shelf will mean the onus to reorder paperclips doesn’t fall on any employee. Of course, we shouldn’t rely on innovations such as this to challenge everyday sexism. And on that point, you can read more about changing attitudes to gender in our 2020 Trend Report. But this example is a timely reminder to ask yourself: what social context is our next innovation being deployed into? Is it unintentionally supporting subtle, hidden structures of prejudice? Could it be used to challenge those structures?