Amazon Dash launches today in the UK. It’s a physical button pre-programmed to have one function, and one function alone – you push it and it orders a product. But not just any product – the same product every time, and one packet of. The single function is baked into the button. That’s it. Simple. There are Dash buttons for about 40 brands (at launch), ranging from dishwasher tablets, to instant coffee, to condoms.


Oldie, but goodie

What’s the behavioural view on this? Affordance is an old, well known inducing force to drive behaviour. Affordance simply refers to opportunities for acting, interacting, or being acted upon between the world and an actor (a person, animal, or object). Originally described by the perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson, the UX and design fields find his work nourishing (for uber-read see Norman’s Affordance, conventions, and design‘ (cited +1,355)). Even earlier than that, we had channel factors nailed.


War Bonds, water, and waste

Dorwin Cartwright tested the difference between channel factors and declared opinion and how likely declared intention is to ‘get over’ the barrier erected by poor affordance. In 1949 Dorwin experimented with War Bonds in America ( initiating what came to be known as the Lewinian tradition of ‘action research’.). Almost all American citizens agreed with appeals to buy US War Bonds, and almost all thought they were desirable – even more significantly almost all knew where and how to buy them at a bank or post office.
[list_styles][list_style icon=”fa fa-caret-right”]Of those who declared they wanted to buy some and were then left to their own devices, 20% of them subsequently bought War Bonds[/list_style][list_style icon=”fa fa-caret-right”]Of those who declared they wanted to buy some and were offered a personal on-the-spot sign-up, 60% of them bought War Bonds[/list_style][/list_styles]


A huge difference in behaviour


Bringing us up-to-date is B.J.Fogg from Stanford, his Behavior Model, and his work on channel factors and physical availability. He declares affordance is often overlooked as a component of short- and long-term behaviour, e.g. If you want to drink more water at work you’d put a glass on your desk, not halfway across the office.


Obvious, right?


And our work on littering showed how littering reduced by 10% when we rolled in under the cover of darkness and secretly installed more bins outside busy shops – clearly, increasing affordance even without any one noticing has a powerful effect. (For more on our work for Keep Britain Tidy, for more read Prof P. Wesley Schultz, Ph.D’s work on Keep America Beautiful, 2009)


Business strategy and behaviour

Business strategy and behavioural understanding are frequently and comfortable bed fellows. We changed the product-position of cardboard desks to minimise deep-seated response to the original framing – and plenty of business get it right, either by method or mistake.


Fast, Faster, Fastest Moving Consumer Goods

The only question about Amazon Dash is not ‘will it work?’ because the answer’s ‘yes’ (it is in practice, and affordance and channel factors are well established throughout modern era), but ‘for which products will it work?’.


Functional, non-hedonic, less-gratifying FMCG such as washing liquid, lavatory paper, and razors I’m sure. The jury’s out on whether condoms will be a success – it depends on how quick the delivery is – but those condoms might need a companion-button for Viagra.

For more on this speak with us

Also, as co-founders and supporters of the London Behavioural Economics Network, join the Meetup group and Facebook group for more details and events

Privacy Preference Center