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We let Amazon’s smart shelf order our groceries—here’s how it went

Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf quietly keeps track of your household inventory.

In a laundry room, a container of Tide laundry detergent is sitting on an Amazon Dash Smart Shelf. Credit: Amazon

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I have a confession to make: Regardless of how prepared I am, I always forget something when I go grocery shopping. This problem has become even more pronounced during the pandemic, when spending time indoors scouring the shelves of your local grocery store is generally discouraged to reduce the spread of COVID.

That’s why when I stumbled upon Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf—a smart reordering device intended to help stock your home and pantry staples automatically using Amazon's online grocery service—I thought it could be a brilliant idea. It couldn’t hurt to cross paper towels off my shopping list for good so I never have to worry about forgetting to buy them.

What is Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf?

From the left it shows the Amazon Dash Smart Shelf in three different sizes, Large, Medium, and Small.
Credit: Amazon

There are three smart shelf sizes available on Amazon.

Amazon originally came up with the idea of this automatic replenishment system for small and medium sized businesses. It looks like a scale, but doesn’t function like one. When you place products on it, the Dash Smart Shelf starts monitoring the product’s weight, and when the weight falls to the threshold you set, it’ll automatically place a reorder request so you’ll receive new products.

After initial success with businesses, Amazon decided to roll out a household version in three sizes: Small (7 by 7 inches), Medium (12 by 10 inches), and Large (18 by 13 inches).

How to set up Amazon’s Dash Smart Shelf

On the left, you can set up the basic information of your Amazon device; on the right, you can customize the re-ordering process.
Credit: Amazon

You can customize the re-ordering process that best suit your needs.

First, install the three AAA batteries that come with each shelf. If you’re new to the Amazon app, download it from the app store on your smartphone, then open Settings and click on the Programs & Features menu. Scroll all the way down and click Smart Reorder Devices to set your shelves up.

Then, power on and connect the shelf to your home WiFi through the Amazon app on your smartphone. Once your shelf is paired with your Amazon app, you can browse products to add to your shelf. From there, you can customize the reorder threshold point (I set mine at 50%), shipping address, and payment options.

We tested two shelves, the small for coffee beans and the medium for paper towels. Both are common household items that people regularly restock.

For me, ordering coffee beans online has become the new normal since this pandemic started last year. Though I don’t order paper towels online, I’ve often forgotten to pick them up on my grocery shopping trips, so I figured it would be worthwhile if my Dash shelf could automatically reorder them for me when my supplies run low.

What can the Dash Smart Shelf reorder?

The left image shows a corner full of pet supplies: pet toys, dog poop bags, and an Amazon Dash Smart Scale with a half-full container of what appears to be dog food. On the right, there's a box of diapers on an Amazon Smart Shelf.
Credit: Amazon

At the moment, you can find the most popular brands but the list of products available is growing.

You can only order products that are sold on Amazon. On its ever-growing list of Dash-compatible items, you can browse the products by categories, including Food and Drinks, Cleaning Supplies, Pet, Office and IT Supplies, Health and Personal Care, and Baby. Popular brands such as Cascade dishwasher pods, Bounty paper towels, Cheerios cereal, and coffee pods are available. However, if you’re interested in a niche brand, it’s unlikely you’ll find it at the Dash Amazon store.

What I like

The set-up process was pretty straightforward. Navigate through a few pages in the app and you’ll be all set. From essential office supplies to household items like toilet paper and coffee beans, I’ve found quite a massive selection of categories to pick from.

I also noticed a nice feature in that, when the unit price of the paper towel increased, the app alerted me about the price change and postponed ordering until the unit price dropped again.

Shipping was fast, thanks to Amazon Prime. For both the coffee beans and paper towels, my package arrived within two days of the ordering date.

The shelves are relatively sensitive. If you accidentally knock a box of coffee pods over and forget to put it back, then it'll place an order for you within hours. However, I've found that canceling an order is easy—I managed to cancel my last order after it was already shipped.

What I didn’t like

The first challenge I ran into is the limited selection of products to choose from.

Take coffee beans for example—you’ll find the most popular commercial brands and roasts without a problem, but you won’t be able to get freshly roasted beans from smaller scale independent roasters, like our favorite coffee subscription, Counter Culture. For the paper towels, I had no such issue, as all the common options are readily available on Amazon.

Though it was nice to see these household staples turn up on my porch, it was a bit annoying that I didn’t receive any notifications regarding their arrival via push notifications. To confirm whether an order was placed, I had to go to the Amazon app and check order history.

Should you get an Amazon Dash Smart Shelf?

There are many paper coffee cups stacked on top of an Amazon Dash Smart Shelf. To the left of the shelf is a coffee maker and to the right appears to be a hot water dispenser.
Credit: Amazon

You can use the smart shelf for re-ordering home goods, as well as office supplies.

Frankly, I was confused with the purpose of the Smart Shelf as I already use Amazon Subscribe & Save for a few of our household items, such as mouthwash, rice, and toothpaste. The service allows us to never run out of necessities while saving some money.

I see the Dash auto-replenishment system as being similar to Subscribe & Save, while costing a bit more because you have to purchase the shelf.

I live with my husband, so there are only two people’s worth of household supplies that we need to keep track of. As we live in a city where grocery stores are minutes away, these smart scales are nice to have but may not be necessary.

However, these smart shelves could be a game changer for people with larger families, people with pets, or folks with limited mobility. With this smart shelf, you won’t have to worry about running low on household staples.

Get the Dash Smart Shelf from Amazon starting at $19.99

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