TIME Retail

Amazon Basically Just Unveiled the Future of Shopping and It’s Awesome

No, the Dash Button is not an April Fool

Amazon.com unveiled its latest innovation Tuesday — a tiny device that allows you to order household items at the touch of a button.

The Dash Button is a Wi-Fi enabled plastic controller that connects to a customer’s smartphone through the Amazon app. The buttons can be stuck or hung anywhere around the house — like on your washing machine, say. If you run out of detergent, you just push the button and an order is automatically sent to Amazon for that particular product.

More than a dozen brands — listing about 255 of the kind of bulky products you need to replenish often — are available to order through the Dash Button program.

The device allows users to cancel their order within 30 minutes, and the order will only process once, so you won’t end up with tons of detergent being delivered to your door.

The timing of Amazon’s announcement has got many people wondering if it’s a prank for April Fool’s Day. Others see the timing as a stroke of marketing genius, because while people are trying to decide if it’s a hoax they are also doing precisely what Amazon wants them to do — which is talk about Dash and share the news.

Amazon spokesperson Kinley Pearsall confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the Dash Button is indeed real, although for now the service is only available to Amazon Prime customers by invitation only.

Read next: 7 Things You Probably Had No Idea Amazon Sold

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TIME Amazon

The Absolute Strangest Thing You Can Now Buy on Amazon

Among other things, Amazon's new service lets you rent grazing goats

There are about 700 professional services listed on Amazon’s new Home Services marketplace, which lets customers find everything from a plumber to a mover. But surely the least essential yet hardest to resist offering? Goat grazer.

That’s right: Some Amazon Home Services customers can hire a goat to come graze on their grass, a seemingly strange but not totally unheard of method of keeping vegetation levels under control.

 Goats
AmazonAmazon Goats

Not sold yet? Consider the free bonus offering: “As they graze, they will likely leave behind some droppings, too, and you’ll get to keep this fertilizer as a friendly parting gift!”

Weirdly, this isn’t Amazon’s first brush with goat-kind. Amazon Japan has used goats on its grounds in Gifu Prefecture, Kotaku reported in 2013.

 

MONEY online shopping

7 Things You Probably Had No Idea Amazon Sold

repairman arriving at front door
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

What do autographed vintage Air Jordans, environmentally friendly baby wipes, cheap wine, and plumber recommendations have in common? You can find them all at Amazon.com.

On Monday, Amazon announced the official launch of Amazon Home Services, a marketplace and recommendation tool to help people find, schedule, and pay for services like home cleaning, lawn care, and handyman jobs. The new service is obviously competing in the same space as user review tools like Angie’s List, Yelp, and Porch, and customers with verified purchases made through Amazon will be able to review services as well. Amazon also says all of its professionals are handpicked and fully insured, and if anything goes wrong with a job it promises to “work with customers and the pro to ensure the job gets done right or provide a refund.”

Amazon’s entrance into the sphere of contractors and professional home services may seem a little out of left field. But the move makes total sense in light of the company’s overarching mission—to become the destination for anyone wanting to find and purchase pretty much anything.

Here are a few other seemingly odd retail categories that Amazon has ventured into recently. They haven’t all been successful. In fact, some have basically been flops. But when you’re trying to take control of the marketplace for selling everything under the sun, a few misfires and false starts should be expected.

Fine Art
Amazon Art launched in the summer of 2013 as a marketplace selling tens of thousands of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works—including some originals from masters like Monet and Norman Rockwell, with list prices into the millions of dollars. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some in the highbrow art world have been skeptical about the idea of one-click ordering, say, a Rembrandt.

Renowned economist Tyler Cowen pointed out the absurdity of being asked to pay $4.99 for shipping for a “mediocre Mary Cassatt lithograph” listed at $185,000, and wrote that he hoped Amazon Art was “a doomed venture.” The New Yorker noted that actually selling and profiting from high-end art may not be the point for Amazon: “Regardless of whether Amazon Art revolutionizes the art world, it will contribute to the perception that Amazon is working to create: whatever it is you’re looking for, you only need to remember one U.R.L.”

Fresh Flowers
About the same time Amazon was getting into fine art, it quietly launched The Amazon Curated Flowers Collection, in which the e-retail giant would be selling and shipping flowers directly to customers. Apparently, the venture didn’t work out. Recode reported that the Collection was kaput within a few months, and now the only flower bouquets that can be ordered through the site come from third-party vendors.

Diapers & Baby Wipes
Another venture that seems to have not worked out as well as Amazon wished was its recent entrance into the diaper business. Last December, the company began selling Amazon Elements, its own brand of high-end, environmentally friendly diapers and wipes. Less than two months later, bad feedback from customers pushed Amazon to discontinue the diapers and take them off the market, at least until design improvements could be made. Amazon Elements Baby Wipes, meanwhile, are still listed for sale at the site, where they get a 4.5-star rating.

Collectible Coins
Amazon’s Collectible Coins marketplace hit the site last May, allowing shoppers to search, browse, and buy thousands of rare and historical authenticated coins from dozens of dealers. Like Amazon Art, the coins purchased via Amazon can be priced into the millions, and Amazon gets a cut of every sale—reportedly 5% to 20%.

Sports Memorabilia
Among the wide selection of autographed sports collectibles currently up for sale on Amazon is a pair of 1985 Air Jordan sneakers ($48,788 + $4.49 shipping) and a baseball featuring Lou Gehrig’s signature ($71,264.99, with free shipping!). Amazon got into sports memorabilia in 2012, and it has a section for entertainment collectibles as well.

Wine
The Amazon Wine marketplace was introduced in 2012 in about a dozen states, with shipping on up to six bottles priced at a flat $9.99. The service has since expanded for delivery to more than a dozen other states, and the site—no stranger to price wars—has been competing aggressively on wine promotions, notably with 1¢ shipping on many orders.

TIME Amazon

Why Amazon Is Hosting a $25,000 Robot Showdown

Amazon Opens Fulfillment Center In DuPont, Washington
Stephen Brashear—Getty Images Amazon Kiva robots, which help fill orders by bringing shelves of merchandise to Amazon Associates, navigate an Amazon Fulfillment Center on February 13, 2015 in DuPont, Washington.

One small step for robots, one giant leap for warehouse automation

Some 25 teams will compete in Amazon’s upcoming robot throwdown, a competition that will test the outer limits of what a robot can see, grasp and pack into a cardboard box.

The e-commerce giant recently awarded travel grants to 25 robot team finalists who will be flown to Seattle this May to compete in Amazon’s Picking Challenge. Each team’s robot will be confronted with a shelf of 25 common household items. It will have to accurately identify, grasp and package the items with care.

Points will be awarded for computer vision — the ability to tell apart a box of Oreo cookies, for instance, from a box of Cheez-It crackers — as well as dexterity. Dropping or damaging an item will result in points deducted, MIT Technology Review reports. The winner will receive $25,000 in prize money.

Robots already play an instrumental role in Amazon’s packaging centers, ferrying 700-pound inventory shelves in and out of storage, but the challenges of handling individual objects with care has posed a persistent challenge for researchers. Amazon says it hopes the contest will “strengthen the ties between the industrial and academic robotic communities and promote shared and open solutions.”

MONEY credit cards

How Does Amazon’s New 5% Cash Back Card Measure Up?

Amazon Prime
Alamy

Amazon has a new store credit card that offers Amazon Prime members 5% back on qualifying purchases. But how does it compare to the competition?

Amazon and Synchrony Bank released a new credit card offer for Amazon Prime customers last week, offering 5% cash back on qualifying purchases and even promotional financing for orders over $149.

The store credit card is a credit product you may be familiar with at bricks-and-mortar retailers. Often, these cards offer a discount at sign-up, and promises of exclusive discounts or or coupons in the future. With the 5% cash-back offer on all purchases, is the new Prime card a good fit for frequent Amazon shoppers?

How This Card Works

Subscribers to Amazon’s Prime service are eligible to receive 5% cash back on qualifying Amazon.com purchases as a statement credit. Or, they can receive a variety of promotional finance offers. For example, cardholders will pay no interest on charges of $149 or more if the balance is paid in full within six months of purchase. Otherwise, the standard interest rate of 25.99% will apply. In addition, new applicants will receive an Amazon.com gift card loaded into their account instantly upon approval.

This card is offered by Synchrony Bank, and is not affiliated with any payment network, so it is only valid for purchases from Amazon. Applicants must be members of Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year and includes free two-day shipping and access to their streaming video and music services. There is no annual fee for this card, but cardholders must be current Amazon Prime subscribers to receive the 5% discount or the promotional financing offers.

There are other store cards and credit cards that also allow you to save money on Amazon purchases. Here are a few offers so you can weigh your options.

Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card From Chase

Chase offers this card that earns 3% back for purchases from Amazon.com, 2% back at gas stations, restaurants and drugstores, and 1% back on all other purchases, and is accepted anywhere Visa is. New cardholders also receive a $30 Amazon.com gift card applied to their account at the time of approval. There is no annual fee for this card.

Sallie Mae MasterCard From Barclaycard

This card offers 5% cash back on the first $250 cardholders spend each month on gas and grocery purchases, and the first $750 spent each month on eligible book purchases. Interestingly, Amazon.com is coded as a book store, a legacy of their early origins as just a book retailer. Cardholders earn 1% cash back on all other purchases, and there is no annual fee for this card.

SimplyCash Business Card From American Express

Another strategy for getting discounts from Amazon purchases is to use Amazon gift cards, which can be purchased at some office supply stores. The SimplyCash Business Card from American Express offers 5% cash back for purchases at U.S. office supply stores and on wireless telephone services. It also features 3% cash back on a category of your choice including airlines, hotels, car rentals, gas stations, restaurants, advertising and shipping, and on all other purchases. There is no annual fee for this card.

Blue Cash Preferred Card From American Express

This card offers 6% cash back on up to $6,000 spent each year at U.S. supermarkets, which often sell gift cards for Amazon. In addition, this card offers 3% cash back for purchases from select U.S. department stores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. There is a $75 annual fee for this card.

Before you apply for any credit card, it can be helpful to check your credit standing so you can target your search to credit cards that fall within your credit range. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, and they’re updated every 30 days.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY Tech

3 Companies Apple Needs to Watch Out For

Apple Store, 5th Avenue, New York
Alamy

The world's most valuable tech company is riding high, but there are a few companies it should notice in the rearview mirror.

Apple APPLE INC. AAPL -0.14% is on top of the world. The stock hit a new all-time high late last month, and now the market is looking forward to next month’s debut of the Apple Watch as the class act of Cupertino makes its first push into wearable computing.

This doesn’t mean that the coast is clear for Apple. There are a few companies that may have Apple in their crosshairs, and we asked our Motley Fool investing experts which companies they thought that Apple can’t ignore if it wants to stay on top.

Rick Munarriz: There isn’t a riverboat gambler as gutsy as Amazon.com’s AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.5% Jeff Bezos in consumer tech, and that could spell trouble for Apple down the line. Bezos conceded late last year that he has spent billions on failures at the leading online retailer, but that hasn’t stopped him from placing more bold bets. He’s crazy as a fox, and margin-heavy Apple is the mother of all hen houses.

Amazon isn’t afraid to sacrifice margins for the sake of market share, explaining why you can buy a Kindle e-reader for as little as $79 and a Kindle Fire tablet for less than $100. His aim isn’t always true. Last year’s Fire Phone was a flop, and that’s comforting for Apple investors since the iPhone accounted for more than two-thirds of Apple’s sales in its latest quarter. However, with Kindle and Fire TV products butting heads with pricier Apple counterparts the battle is real. Apple rightfully commands a market premium for its products, but with Bezos willing to take big hits in the pursuit of relevance it’s a hard company to dismiss in Apple’s rearview mirror.

Dan Caplinger: Many investors see Garmin GARMIN LTD. GRMN -0.95% as already having gotten defeated by Apple and other mobile-device makers, as the company that pioneered special-purpose GPS devices for navigation has found that smartphones like Apple’s iPhone have enough navigational prowess to handle ordinary GPS applications like driving directions without a custom device. Yet as Apple prepares to move into the smartwatch market with its Apple Watch, Garmin will once again pose a competitive threat that Apple will have to overcome.

Garmin has done a good job of catering to enthusiasts with its watch offerings. Its D2 Pilot and Quatix Marine watches help airplane pilots and boat captains handle essential navigational tasks, with specific capabilities that an all-purpose watch like Apple Watch won’t be able to match. At the same time, Garmin has a good reputation for its fitness products, with the Forerunner series of high-end watches providing independent GPS navigation without the need for wireless connectivity along with a host of heart-rate and physical-performance metrics for avid runners, cyclists, and other athletes.

Garmin’s focus on specialized niches has served it well after losing much of its all-purpose GPS business. To maximize its success, Apple will have to lure some of Garmin’s loyal customers away by going beyond basic apps to take full advantage of whatever technological capabilities the Apple Watch ends up having.

Tim Beyers: Web-based computing is no longer a “someday” affair. For evidence, look at the astounding growth of salesforce.com. The poster company for cloud computing doubled earnings per share in the latest quarter as revenue soared 25.7% and its backlog of booked business grew to a whopping $9 billion.

Importantly, salesforce isn’t the only one seeing heightened interest in cloud alternatives. In its annual report on the state of the cloud, hosting provider RightScale said that 88% of the 930 IT professionals it surveyed are using the public cloud to power apps and get business done.

Why should Apple investors care? The iEmpire banks on attracting users into a closed, device-dependent ecosystem. Richer cloud environments could help break the company’s vice grip on users, and no one is working harder than Google GOOGLE INC. GOOGL -0.94% to enable this future.

Success has come slowly but surely. According to Net Applications, Chrome has consistently grown its share of the browser market since April of last year. (From 17.92% then, to 24.69% as of February.) Chromebooks are also on the rise, accounting for 25% of low-cost laptops sold in the U.S. Sales are on track to nearly triple over the next three years, Gartner reports.

For now, Chromebooks are limited in scope and functionality when compared to a full-blown Mac. What happens when that’s no longer true? What happens when I can get a high-performance Alienware laptop built to run Chrome OS apps as fast and functionally as native software on a MacBook? That could take years, of course. But it’ll be a disruptive day for Apple when it finally arrives.

MONEY online shopping

FAA Gives Amazon Permission to Test Delivery Drones

Amazon's ambitious Prime Air drone delivery service took another step forward Thursday, after the FAA gave the company permission to test its drones.

TIME Amazon

Amazon’s Drone Delivery Dreams Just Took a Step Closer to Reality

Amazone Drone Delivery
Amazon/AP Amazon's 'Prime Air' unmanned aircraft project prototype.

But don't expect a drone on your doorstep anytime soon

Amazon’s hopes of delivering shipments to customers via drones got a little more real Thursday as federal regulators granted the company approval to test its unmanned aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration gave Amazon’s drones what’s called an experimental airworthiness certificate, which lets the company fly its aircraft for research, testing and crew training purposes. Amazon must follow a handful of rules laid out by the FAA: It must keep flights at 400 feet or below, only fly in daylight, and pilots must hold at least a private pilot’s certificate, among other stipulations. The company also has to report a wealth of data about its drone flights to the agency every month.

However, the FAA is not yet allowing Amazon to conduct commercial drone flights. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first said back in late 2013 that he wants to use drones to deliver packages directly to customers’ doorsteps in a program dubbed “Prime Air.”

The FAA’s Thursday decision comes after Amazon petitioned the agency last July to let it test its drones. In February, the FAA proposed new commercial drone rules that would make it significantly easier to legally operate a drone for money in the U.S., an activity that currently requires case-by-case approval from the agency. However, the plan would require drone pilots to fly their aircraft with “unaided vision” and avoid flying over people, rules that would seem to preclude Amazon’s drone delivery concept.

The FAA is expected to vote on those new rules later this year.

 

MONEY Tech

You’re Not Going to Believe How Amazon Is Going to Speed Up Delivery

A package moves along a conveyer belt, at a new Amazon.com fulfillment center in DuPont, Wash. The center is one of 50 around the country and three in the Puget Sound area that process and ship Amazon customer orders using a mix of robotic technology and human employees.
Ted S. Warren—AP

That's right: 3D printers.

Amazon AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.5% has made speedy delivery one of its key priorities.

To accomplish this task, the company has developed a nationwide network of distribution centers, built up its own delivery force, and made a deal with the United States Postal Service for Sunday delivery. The company has even tested predictive software, so it can know what you plan to order before you order it, and it has been experimenting with unmanned drones for near-instant delivery.

A new patent application from the online retailer shows it wants to take things a step further by removing warehouses from the equation. The patent, titled “Providing Services Related to Item Delivery Via 3D Manufacturing on Demand,” details a process where Amazon would take orders and use 3D printers in its delivery trucks to create the items.

“Time delays between receiving an order and shipping the item to the customer may reduce customer satisfaction and affect revenues generated,” the company explained in the “background” section of its application. “Accordingly, an electronic marketplace may find it desirable to decrease the amount of warehouse or inventory storage space needed, to reduce the amount of time consumed between receiving an order and delivering the item to the customer, or both.”

How it works

While the application does not specifically say items would only be manufactured in the truck, it does provide graphics and examples where products would be printed in the vehicle. In a broad sense, the process starts when Amazon receives an order from a customer. Then, the company interfaces with its supplier to receive drawings for the product and to arrange payment. After that, the item is printed and dropped off to the customer, either at their home or workplace or perhaps, at an alternate location like an Amazon Locker.

A specific scenario

Amazon spells out a specific example where a faucet handle breaks off while a person cleans up after dinner, making adjustment of the water pressure and temperature difficult. The person would then use a smartphone to access Amazon, locate the replacement handle, and order it for remote pickup.

After the order is completed, the customer, according to the application, would head toward the pick-up location indicated by the retailer.

“Meanwhile, the computer systems retrieve a digital 3D model of the faucet handle from a database maintained by the original vendor of the faucet,” Amazon wrote. “The computer systems then convert the 3D model into printing instructions for a 3D printer.”

Those instructions are used to print the handle — either on a truck or at an Amazon facility — and by the time the customer arrives at the pick up location, it is ready.

This specific example has the item printed in a physical Amazon location, but the patent application details both fixed and mobile scenarios as well as customer pick ups and deliveries. In either case, the time between order and pickup is dramatically faster than even the one-day option Amazon currently offers (and equal to, if not faster than, the very-limited same-day service offered in some markets).

More items, faster

The promise of making items using 3D printers not only offers quick turnaround but also the potential to exponentially increase product offerings. If the retailer can make deals with manufacturers, it should, for example, be able to offer an exhaustive supply of replacement parts. This could, in theory, include items that are out of stock or no longer manufactured.

Though the patent does not spell out how close Amazon is to offering this type of service, it does lay out an intriguing scenario which would improve service and inventory management without adding warehouse space. This type of service could be revolutionary, with the caveat that 3D printing and “parts on demand” are likely to become more common with physical retailers in the future.

Still, despite the fact that Amazon may someday be competing with “Print It Hut” or “On-Demand-O-Mat” locations in every strip mall in America, this is a bold idea typical of a company always pushing for innovation.

TIME leadership

3 Books Every Leader Should Read to Be Successful

Frank Gehry has selected personal favorites for his 'Curated Bookshelf' at Louis Vuitton's London flagship. The shelf is located in the first-floor librarie.
Jessica Klingelfuss

Teachings from the best in the business world

As an employee, you function mostly as a solitary unit. You do your part, produce your “output,” and the work is done. But as a manager (or more precisely, a leader—managers manage tasks, leaders lead people), everything changes. Your success is no longer about your own output, it’s about other people’s — the most important work you do is often what enables other people to do their jobs. But finding your way can be difficult. So in honor of National Book Month, here are three books that every leader should read to succeed.

High Output Management by Andy Grove

Key points: Grove’s book, reflecting on his time as Intel CEO in the 1970s, remains relevant today because of the basic principles it outlines: As a leader, you are an enabler of others. Your team’s performance, not your own output, is what you are judged on. Grove also shares five key things that should inform and govern your time: decision making, information gathering, information sharing, nudging and role modeling. If you are spending significant time doing things outside of those five key areas, it might be worth rethinking your schedule.

Best quote: “The art of management lies in the capacity to select from the many activities of seemingly comparable significance the one or two or three that provide leverage well beyond the others and concentrate on them.”

Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround by Lou Gerstner

Key points: Compared to High Output Management, which can read a little like a textbook, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? is practically a thriller. Gerstner’s well-known memoir about the turnaround of IBM is a vibrant book on leadership during a challenging time. It’s about transformation. Gerstner touches on the importance of speed and a clearly communicated set of principles—especially across a company as large as IBM was at the time. Gerstner also talks about the issues big companies run into with mid-level talent: “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Best quote: “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”

The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company by John Rossman

Key points: This is by far the easiest read of the three in this post, but it’s also the most effective at providing prescriptive and actionable leadership advice. Rossman, a former Amazon executive, decodes a lot of the behind the scenes at Amazon and points to what is most important at a company that complex: decision making and ownership. The owner of a project or product doesn’t have to be the most senior person at the organization. In fact, it can be a very junior person. But this person is the sole person responsible for the project’s outcome.

Best quote: “Amazon.com employees quickly learn that the phrase ‘That’s not my job’ is an express ticket to an exit interview.”

Have your own favorite leadership books? I’d love to hear them—tweet at me @cschweitz.

Read next: 4 Biggest Myths About Being a Great Leader

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