A Dash of Inspiration

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A Dash of Inspiration

By Peter Breen - 10/01/2019

Who ever said that a great business innovation has to be sustainable, or that a revolutionary idea can’t be a little bit goofy?

This summer, Amazon shut down its 4-year-old Dash program, sending the quirky automatic product replenishment service “to the bookshelf of kitschy retail innovations,” as Forbes contributor Chris Walton quipped.

The Dash concept was, decidedly, a little preposterous from the very beginning, a fact that Amazon seemed to acknowledge by unveiling the program in 2015 on March 31 – on the eve of April Fool’s Day. Many industry pundits immediately dismissed the idea as nonsense, but probably felt a little foolish themselves later, after a few hundred brands from leading consumer goods companies signed on over the next two years.

But did Amazon really think that, one day, the walls and appliances in most households would be plastered with branded Dash Buttons that consumers would press to restock their pantry one specific product at a time? Not a chance – especially considering that Amazon Alexa was already available to let those same consumers order anything and everything they needed (and, occasionally, even things they merely talked about) with just a few simple voice commands.

Instead, Amazon’s objective (however much it may have been articulated within the company) was to continue guiding shopping behavior toward instant fulfillment, to eliminate the many steps and potential obstacles that historically have separated need identification from product purchase. With Dash, the two processes become one fluid action, and your next shipment of Tide was on the way as the last flakes of the box in your hand fluttered into the washer. Heck, if you’ve been shopping at an appliance store recently, your washer now might be doing the ordering for you.

So the legacy of Dash can’t be judged by the program itself, but by the revolutionary behavioral change it addressed, and the way it helped guide consumers, brands and retailers into a new era of shopping.

I’ve been having similar thoughts lately about Loop, the wonderfully ambitious effort launched this year by TerraCycle in conjunction with industry-leading CPGs and retailers to leap far beyond the admirable packaging reuse and recycling initiatives currently being undertaken and eliminate packaging waste entirely. Our cover story on page 34 outlines the business model in detail, but the basic premise is that CPGs create containers for their products sturdy enough for consumers to use and send back for refills up to 100 times.

Unlike Amazon’s experimentation with Dash, TerraCycle is sincerely determined to drive as much waste as possible out of the consumer goods supply chain. (I dare any conscientious industry executive to listen to TerraCycle founder Tom Szaky speak and not want to get involved.) And the company is fully committed to building Loop into a reality around the globe.

I most certainly want Loop – or at least the concept behind Loop – to succeed. Unfortunately, the idea of getting all con-sumers to commit to such a dramatic change in behavior seems a bit too much to ask – as is the possibility of getting all CPGs and retailers around the world to transform their operating models to such disruptive levels.

But Loop doesn’t have to succeed as a business to successfully achieve its objective. If TerraCycle’s efforts inspire CPGs to continue finding ways to eliminate packaging waste – at a faster pace, and to greater levels – then its mission will be accomplished quite well indeed.

That would be a truly revolutionary accomplishment, even if it sounds a little goofy.

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