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Amazon Dash: Nifty New Technology or Great Product Management?

This weekend I learned about a cool new gadget made by Amazon: the Amazon Dash. This device pairs with your AmazonFresh account (an account for local delivery of groceries- available only in certain locations) and allows you to stock your online grocery list by speaking your food’s name or by scanning the barcodes you have in your kitchen.
Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want to scan the food they have and have Amazon deliver more when they get low?
However, when I heard about it, I immediately thought of the :CueCat from the early 2000s. This technology also allowed the user to scan a barcode with the device which was attached to the computer. The :CueCat could then find websites with information related to the barcode you scanned. Additionally, the :CueCat could pick up audio tones and take the user to the appropriate website. Sound familiar? Of course, barcode scanning has been around for decades; that technology is not new, but the :CueCat was one of the first household devices to allow barcode scanning. Nowadays, you can scan barcodes with your phone!
Now, the :CueCat never really took off, in part, possibly because it wasn’t appropriately linked to something that people actually cared about (and I still have one sitting in a box somewhere). Amazon Dash is in a good position (depending on the market of its AmazonFresh initiative) to be profitable and make an impact by having the barcode scanning technology tied to something that people use. And if Amazon’s previous devices are any indication, it will likely fair well.
I saw this as a great case study in product management. Many times when people think about product management and they want to be a product manager, they think about the iPhone, Google Glasses, the Wii, etc. really cool technologies that are going to change the way consumers interact with each other, other technologies and, possibly, even the world. However, most projects are not about nifty new technologies; they are about adapting current technology into a mechanism that fits a user’s needs and solves a business problem.
For Amazon, the business problem might have gone something like this: “We have this AmazonFresh program, but it is not earning us as much money as we had hoped.” One reason for this might be that people don’t want to populate a wish list like for the normal Amazon website. What if we made it easier for them to populate a shopping list? Someone, perhaps the product manager herself, remembered the barcode scanning technology or maybe even the :CueCat, and thus (perhaps only in my imagination), the idea for the Amazon Dash was born. This product manager (along with the rest of the team, of course), took a technology that was readily available and found a new niche market for it to thrive.
When it comes down to it, the best product managers can do both types of projects; they can manage the nifty new technology, be creative and everything that goes along with those big name projects, but they are also practical in mining the current technologies for new, innovative uses.

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