Are we all familiar with Amazon’s Dash concept? You may have seen the branded Dash buttons that let customers reorder everything from cat food to toilet paper to be delivered to their door with a single push. The Dash Replenishment Service (DRS) takes this even further with devices like washing machines and kettles able to reorder their own supplies automatically when running low.
All very interesting for sure but what does this have to do with packaging? Well Amazon has now extended the DRS to be able to support smart packaging via third parties. And that might be a gamechanger. Essentially this means that products in smart packaging could automatically reorder replacements when they sense supplies are running low – which is pretty cool.
Some companies are already working on harnessing this new third-party support from Amazon including Jabil Packaging Solutions. At present a lot of the solutions use a connected device to trigger the re-order rather than the actual packaging itself. This requires customers to dispense shampoo into a special connected bottle or to store the bottle on a smart shelf for example.
Jabil says that this scenario could be built to ensure that the system is only triggered by a certain brand’s product. A smart spice rack could be programmed to only respond to a certain brand’s barcode for example. Equally, if this approach is taken it may impact the packaging used for the refills. If the product is going to be decanted into something else then does it need to have the same branding on it? Should it be made out of a different material to make it lighter or easier to transport? There’s a lot to think about.
The future is also open for actual packaging-based automatic reordering ideas, whether that’s in the form of a smart label or an actual smart bottle or box. So, what does this mean for its design? On a material level, designers would have to be able to incorporate the necessary sensors and electronics into whatever the packaging is made of.
But the packaging would also need to have a way of measuring the amount of product left. This might be a sensor that can tell when washing up liquid has reached a certain level or if a cornflakes package has dropped below a certain weight. Then there’s the products like tissues where you’d need to be able to detect when a certain number had been removed.
This also raises questions around how you determine at which point the reorder is triggered. Packaging often contains a suggested portion size or a set number of a product, but this doesn’t always correspond with usage. Some people will have a larger bowl of cereal for example or use multiple tissues in one go. Therefore, if the trigger for the reorder is when a box reaches a certain weight, based on a specific number of portions left, a customer may run out faster than expected.
Amazon’s DRS represents a real change in what packaging could do in the future. While it may not be worth it for every products, especially not low value ones, most of us have enough commodities that we use regularly – from toilet roll to coffee – that would be great to just not have to think about buying. What else would you like to refill itself?
By Cate Trotter, Head of Trends, Insider Trends, London.