Germany has banned Amazon's tap-to-order-a-thing Dash buttons, with a court deciding they break ecommerce laws.
The small rectangular button allows Amazon customers to instantly order a specific product by simply pressing it – something that sounds incredibly stupid (and is) but which some people like and Amazon loves because of the sales and data.
But the buttons are now illegal in Germany because they don't provide enough information about the product being ordered nor its price when the button is pressed, the Higher Regional Court in Munich decided after a regional consumer protection body sued. The judgment has not yet been published, we note.
While the idea of suing to stop a button may seem as absurd as the button itself, the consumer body – Verbraucherzentrale NRW – pointed out in its filings that Amazon reserves the right to charge a different price and even deliver a different product to the one that the shopper configured for the button.
Under German law, for obvious reasons, a company must specify what product someone is buying and what the price will be at the time of purchase. Because the Dash buttons don't do that – they are, after all, just a button: there's no screen – they break the law.
The buttons also don’t make it clear that if pressed, a paid order will be generated. Again, it's not hard to see why a law ensuring that people are informed that a click will result in a purchase was passed.
Amazon is, unsurprisingly, not happy with the decision. Even though the Verbraucherzentrale confidently predicted in a press release that the court will refuse to hear an appeal, Amazon has said it will do exactly that.
The two sides then had an argument about innovation. "Today’s ruling is not only hostile to innovation. It also stops customers from making an informed decision about whether a service like the Dash button gives them a convenient shopping experience," complained an Amazon spokesperson.
In response, chief of the consumer body Wolfgang Schuldzinski argued: "We are always open to innovation. But if innovation is to put consumers at a disadvantage and to make price comparisons more difficult, then we use all means against them, as in this case."
Both sides have valid points: the consumer protection body wants to make sure the law is respected. It's not hard to see how unscrupulous merchants could abuse the situation if it wasn't challenged.
At the same time, Amazon can legitimately argue that its customers are actively deciding to buy the buttons (typically you buy the button and are then reimbursed the cost of it with your first order). And such, they are hardly misleading people.
There are a number of potential workarounds but they would all complicate a process that relies on its simplicity to be useful. Amazon could, for example, only move forward with a purchase if the product and cost was the same as when the consumer originally connected the buttons, and require users to actively agree to any changes – perhaps when they next log into their Amazon account.
Or Amazon could connect Dash buttons to its smartphone app and allow people to instantly approve a purchase. But at that point, why wouldn't people just use their phones to order?
The bigger issue of course is that Amazon's work culture is very American – where you put products on the market and then argue with pro-corporate watchdogs if there's a problem. Germany is less laissez-faire in its approach to consumers; something that has also put Amazon under the spotlight of its anti-trust authorities who are investigating the company for abusing its market dominance.
The company has also hit a wall when it comes to workers' unions which are stronger in Germany than in the US and are not excited about Amazon's well-documented aggressive work practices.