Button tech in grocery – what does it mean for wholesalers?

Carling buttons

Amazon will be prescribed a course of beta blockers if it doesn’t slow down soon.

The ecommerce giant’s initial foray into the UK grocery market was slow-paced. It involved offering a handful of items to subscribers to its Prime Now app – an offshoot of the Amazon Prime membership service – in the Birmingham area. But in less than a year, Amazon has spooked major grocery retailers with the roll-out of its Amazon Fresh service to a significant portion of London, along with a secondary service being made available to 30% of UK households.

On top of this, Amazon has unveiled a one-hour restaurant delivery service in the capital, and has now brought its ‘Dash button’ delivery service to the UK.

Amazon Prime members can buy electronic Dash buttons, costing £4.99 each, to automatically replenish a number of household brands, including Andrex (right), Fairy, Kleenex, Listerine, Nescafé, Right Guard and Sheba. One click of the relevant button and the item in question is delivered the following day.

This new attempt at redefining convenience is the latest technological weapon in an arsenal that shows no sign of moving away from having wholesalers and their c-store customers in its firing line.

And it’s not only Amazon getting involved in the button-based ordering market: Unilever is thought to be exploring its own options, Domino’s Pizza launched such a service last year, and Carling, England’s most popular beer, has launched its own independent button.

Clicking the button (above), set up with a corresponding smartphone app, will put a case of Carling in an online shopping trolley at whichever UK supermarket the button owner has pre-selected.

Alpesh Mistry, customer marketing director at Carling owner Molson Coors, claims the button is far from a gimmick, and will help it to boost brand loyalty, and “tackle the increasing problem of brand visibility online”.

Amazon’s omnipotence, unrivalled penetration with digitally-native young consumers, and economies of scale mean that the owners of small food and drink businesses who go to the high street for their personal needs and the cash & carry for their business needs can now mix business with pleasure by calling on Amazon. Some brands, such as Mars, have even launched new products on the site.

A recent survey found that most consumers are ready to embrace ‘programmatic commerce’ devices similar to Amazon Dash. Analyst Salmon quizzed more than 2,000 Brits: 57% said that they’ll be ready to embrace automated purchasing in the next two years, while 54% said they’d be comfortable ordering food and drink using programmatic commerce devices.

However, wholesalers shouldn’t hit the panic button just yet. These tools still can’t offer the immediacy or personal touch a c-store offers, for starters. It’s unknown how many Prime members there are in the UK – research body Bernstein estimates that Prime has up to 69m members worldwide, but 54m of them are in the US.

Added to that, consumer behaviour won’t change rapidly in the wake of Dash’s launch – Dash buttons went on sale in the US in March last year, but digital analyst Slice claims that half of those who have one have never used theirs, the others using their buttons only once every two months.

Perhaps, though, the technology could be adapted for use by wholesalers and their customers. Busy chefs and c-store owners who have to plan staffing carefully because of the National Living Wage would surely welcome such a tool for their most-used or best-selling products.

Booker Group’s head of catering and small businesses Stuart Hyslop noted at this year’s IGD Wholesaling conference that “same day delivery is the future” for the industry – a statement backed up by a trial of same-day delivery Booker is running in Norwich through its Chef Central scheme, and which is on track to grow the business’ delivered arm by 200%.

Those wholesalers with their fingers on the button will work to help their c-store customers stave off the threat of such technology, and will also explore the possibility of using it themselves, perhaps in alignment with a same-day delivery service.

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