Amazon’s Dash Wand barcode scanner returns with Alexa and is now essentially free

The first iteration of Amazon’s Dash Wand wasn’t long for this world. The company trialed the barcode scanner with select Prime Fresh customers in California, but the hardware didn’t seem to really go anywhere. Instead the company switched tactics, moving to those now familiar single product buttons.

Now that Amazon’s all bullish about hardware, thanks to the Echo’s stratospheric success, the company’s bringing back the Dash Wand with Alexa built-in. It’s a nice bit of synergy. All of the barcode scanning and Amazon Fresh purchasing is still there, and now Alexa can do her thing as well, ordering items with voice, pulling up recipes, finding out the nutritional content of an item. You know, Alexa being Alexa.

At the moment, the item is available for Prime Members only. And it’s essentially free (for a limited time), priced at $20 and shipping with a $20 rebate off your first Amazon purchase after registering the thing. It also comes with a free 90-day trial of AmazonFresh. So the device is a gateway to both Amazon’s $15 a month grocery service and a free new back door for getting the company’s smart assistant into more homes.

That price point will probably be a pretty solid method for turning what’s essentially a niche device into a lot of users’ first Alexa experience. Most of us probably never considered bringing a barcode scanner into our homes, but hey, freeish is freeish, right? A promotional video shows a group of yuppies more or less recreating The Big Chill devoid of the death and Motown soundtrack. Like AmazonFresh, this probably isn’t quite a mainstream market at the moment, but it should help get Alexa into even more homes.

Not that the company has been having much of an issue on that front. Numbers from last month put Amazon’s smart assistant at around 70-percent of the voice-controlled speaker market. That number was no doubt helped along with the low-priced Echo Dot, and sticking Alexa on an essentially free device should help the assistant’s home penetration rate event more.

This is Amazon’s loss leader model in perhaps its purest form. The devices have always been less about hardware than locking users into it e-commerce ecosystem. You can run, but you can’t hide from Alexa.