Amazon launched its hyperfast delivery service, Prime Now, late last year. The service promises customers will receive “thousands of items” within a two-hour window of clicking the little yellow “checkout” button on their phones. Prime Now is free for those who hold an Amazon Prime account, which costs $99 per year (expedited one-hour delivery can be purchased for an additional $7.99). Yesterday, Raleigh was added to the roster of 25 major cities serviced by the program, so I decided to try it out. Here are five things I learned:
1. It all begins with an app, which takes about 42 seconds to install.
You can track the exact location of your order on an interactive map, much like you can track the location of an incoming taxi on Uber. My delivery came from a warehouse on Atlantic Avenue, about four miles from where I placed the order. The app’s orange button features a clock with both hands set to 11. Ordering at the 11th hour? This app goes to 11? Who knows. Moving on.
2. Prime Now is food-heavy
. After logging in, I’m prompted to explore categories like Super Bowl Snacks & Drinks, Game Day Foods, Candy, Frozen Foods, Refrigerated Foods, Bakery, Organic …. The list goes on. Coincidentally, I received my first box from Blue Apron, a food service that delivers weekly packages of ingredients along with cooking instructions, earlier this afternoon. Amazon’s heavy food focus feels like a direct response to the surging popularity of on-demand dinner kits. Sorry, Harris Teeter Express Lane. We hardly knew ye.
3. The assortment is pretty limited—and very weird.
In the Super Bowl category, I’m presented with a 15-ounce Medium Con Queso Tostitos Dip, followed by a 24-pack of Aquafina bottled water, and then another Tostitos Dip (this one 15.5 ounces). There are five different Starbucks Frappuccino varieties from which to choose. I add some Haribo gummy bears to my cart, because they are 98 cents. Game Day Party breaks things down into more specific food categories, like beverages and chips, but ends with home theater—in case you want to impulse-buy a new HDTV to go with your Medium Con Queso. You can order cold beverages. You can order eggs. Prime Now doesn’t stock kava tea, though they will deliver lemon spearmint. No thanks.
4. There’s a minimum purchase for delivery, and couriers expect a tip.
You have to spend at least $20 to qualify for Prime Now, and your delivery window is based upon courier availability. I wasn’t able to get my gummies dropped at my doorstep until—gasp—a full 24 hours (!) after ordering, though I imagine this will improve as the service is rolled out. Finally, Prime Now is not free-free. It’s the kind of free that comes with an asterisk, the kind of free that automatically adds a $5 tip to your bill. My driver—an independent contractor working her first day with the service—was paid $18 to make deliveries during a two-hour shift. Like a pizza driver, she is responsible for providing her own car, gas, and insurance. The rest of her income comes from tips. (Note: Prime Now, like Uber FedEx before it, is currently facing a class-action lawsuit from independent contractors who claim the service pays below minimum wage in some markets.)
5. Your shit does not come in a box.
If you add a massive quantity of toilet paper to your order to hit the $20 delivery threshold, and then have your order delivered to your place of employment, all of your coworkers will see exactly what you bought, cradled in the arms of a smiling delivery driver. Your shit will arrive quickly, but it will not come in a box.