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instacart33In the ongoing grocery delivery cold war between Instacart and Amazon, Instacart has fired another salvo, saying that they’re launching Instacart Express, a new component to their service that’s like “Amazon Prime for Groceries,” according to a press release.

An Instacart Express membership will cost $99, and with that, users will avoid a delivery fee that’s usually $3.99 for orders over $35, delivered within two hours of ordering. That goes for all the stores Instacart personal shoppers cover, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Instacart Plus, the company’s own bargain-priced shopping option.

Apoorva Mehta
Apoorva Mehta

If you have an order that costs less than $35, or you want delivery within an hour of placing your order, you’ll still have to pay a fee.

When asked about the Amazon Prime comparison, Apoorva Mehta, Instacart’s CEO and a former Amazon software engineer, said that his former employer’s delivery service is the best analogy for what Instacart is trying to do with Instacart Express.

“People understand and love the convenience of Amazon Prime,” Mehta said in an email. “With Instacart Express we are doing the same — but, for groceries.”

According to Mehta, Instacart Express will help frequent users save money on delivery fees, as well as increase their use of Instacart’s service.

“When I was at Amazon, I saw firsthand how well the Amazon Prime model helped encourage customers to shop more frequently and to buy more at Amazon,” he said. “We think that same model can be applied in the grocery delivery business.”

So does Amazon, if their recent pilot expansion into Los Angeles is any indication. An Amazon “Prime Fresh” membership in Los Angeles costs $299 a year, and provides people with all the benefits of Amazon Prime, as well as free delivery on orders of $35 or more. In Seattle, the only way to get free delivery at the moment is to use Amazon Fresh frequently enough to reach “big radish” status.

While Instacart’s future expansion plans are still as non-specific as before, saying that the company plans to be in 10 new cities by the end of next year, Instacart Express will be coming with them at launch, according to Mehta.

At some point, Instacart is going to have to get in on turf that Amazon has already covered, and we’ll see how the price and service differences affect things. For now, though, the company is still building its business in the Bay Area, which remains untouched by Amazon Fresh, for now.

Previously on GeekWire: Still recovering from ‘painful’ Webvan deal, Sequoia bets again on grocery delivery with $8.5M Instacart investmentQ&A: Instacart CEO on competing with Amazon Fresh and the future of grocery shopping

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