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Test run of Amazon’s new Prime Now instant delivery service. Verdict: Wow

Zachary M. Seward
By Zachary M. Seward

Chief executive officer

This article is more than 2 years old.

Amazon Prime Now could be another leap forward in online retail. The service, which launched last week for Amazon Prime subscribers in a small portion of New York City, promises delivery of many popular goods in just an hour. It costs $8 per delivery, or if you’re willing to wait two hours, then it’s free.

We happen to live and work in the area currently served by Amazon’s trial of the service, which it plans to expand next year. So this morning we gave it a try, testing two different deliveries (in two hours, then in one hour). Everything worked as advertised, and it was—no exaggeration—amazing. Forget drone delivery. The future is now.

The first delivery: two hours, no charge

At first, Prime Now only served a single zip code. This week it expanded to include my zip code—10003—so I downloaded the service’s iPhone app, which is separate from Amazon’s main app. That’s kind of annoying because I’d like to be able to see if something I’m shopping for in the main app is available for Prime Now delivery.

Amazon says that more than 25,000 items are available through the Prime Now app. There certainly are a lot of goods. You can buy cold medicine, paper towels, couscous, light bulbs, Kindles, books, printer toner, webcams—a lot of stuff! But since the deliveries are made by bicycle, you can’t buy really big items. No refrigerators.

Christmas is in two days, so I bought a cell-phone car charger as a stocking stuffer for my dad. We were also running low on dishwasher detergent, so I added that to my cart, too. That put me over the minimum order of $15.

When I went to complete the order, Amazon wanted to know when to deliver the items. It was 6:18am. The detergent shortage in our home was not an urgent situation, so I chose the 8-10am timeslot at no charge. (Remember, though, this service is only available to people who already pay for Amazon Prime, which costs $99 a year.)

Amazon asked for my phone number, address, credit-card number, and any special instructions. When I got to the confirmation screen, I noticed Amazon was recommending a $5 tip, which was a nice touch. When I tweeted about this, other people were not as impressed. Some rightly pointed out that Amazon does not have a great record on pay for its workers who handle orders. Still, I hate how Uber says there is “no need” to tip its drivers, so Amazon is better.

I tapped ”place your order.” It was 6:19am. I got in the shower.

At Amazon’s “mini warehouse” at 7 West 34th Street, my order was prepared. The app showed me a map of the warehouse and my home. It didn’t actually show me the real-time location of the person delivering the items, as promised, which wasn’t a big disappointment. It did tell me the courier’s name was Aaron.

At 8:05am, I got a text from Amazon saying Aaron was on his way.

At 8:13am, 1 hour and 54 minutes after I placed the order, the charger and detergent arrived in a brown paper bag at my door. Aaron didn’t stick around because my instructions said just to leave it. I opened my door, and there it was.

The second delivery: one hour, $8

That was pretty cool, but I had to try the one-hour delivery option, too. When I got to work, which is in the same zip code, I opened up the app and browsed through the books that were available. I’ve been meaning to read Lena Dunham’s memoir and am going on vacation soon, so I ordered that.

I went through the same process, choosing one-hour delivery this time, and placed the order at 9:37am. The $7.99 delivery charge was half the price of the book! With tax and another $5 tip, the total came to $31.99. I am excited to read Dunham’s book, but not that excited. Obviously the one-hour delivery option would only make sense when you truly need something urgently. Until then, I’ll be sticking to the free two-hour option.

Amazon notified me again when the courier—this time his name was Juan—left the warehouse. The map inside the app showed me warehouse (purple) and Quartz’s office (red) and promised my delivery by 10:37am.

At 9:56am, I got a call from a Seattle phone number—Amazon calling. It was Juan. Amazon’s app had directed him to the wrong address. This happens to a lot of people trying to find our office, which is easily confused, by humans and computers, with a similar address to the north. I should have put the cross street in the special instructions.

Amazingly, though, Juan still made it to our door within an hour, at 10:22am. He had another one of those brown paper bags. Inside was Dunham’s book with no additional packaging, which I liked. Juan scanned the barcode on the bag to indicate it had been delivered, and the 45-minute delivery was complete. I got a text message to confirm it.

Of course, there’s a Barnes & Noble three blocks away from the Quartz office, so I probably could have walked over there, paid about $17 for Dunham’s book, and returned to my desk in under 45 minutes. But it’s hard to beat the convenience of never even having to leave my desk. In certain cases—I’ve got people over for dinner, but I forgot to buy salt—it’s really going to come in handy. Most of the time, two-hour delivery will be more than sufficient.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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