Amazon has been delivering groceries in the Seattle region for more than five years through its Amazon Fresh service, and now there are rumors that the service could be expanding to other parts of the country.
The company has made regular changes and updates to the service, attempting to hone the business model and prepare Amazon Fresh for a possible national expansion. From the delivery bags to the pricing structure, experience in 2013 is quite different from when Amazon Fresh launched.
So what can people expect if this service rolls out to additional cities? A great online experience, fantastic convenience, solid customer service, decent produce, questionable meat, and much higher prices, on average, than found at the neighborhood store.
That, at least, is my experience over the past few months, using Amazon Fresh off-and-on at my home in Seattle. Here are notes from my experience, as a possible preview for people in other parts of the country.
Online Experience: No surprise here, but Amazon Fresh’s web interface is fantastic, letting users easily search for items and add them to their carts, maintain grocery lists, find past purchases, check out and schedule deliveries. The streamlined one-click process of adding items to a cart without reloading the page is really a model for how this type of online service should work. Heck, there’s even a Windows Phone app! (In addition to apps for iPhone and Android.)
Convenience: The ability to submit an order relatively late at night and have it show up on your doorstep before dawn is one of those things that still makes me marvel at the wonders of our digital world. Amazon is also very good about letting Amazon Fresh customers add items to an order after it has been placed. Oftentimes these extra items are bagged separately, but still delivered along with the rest.
Delivery: I tend use the predawn doorstep delivery option, in which the driver leaves the bags and bins of groceries and doesn’t need to knock on the door or wake us up. Delivery ranges from $8 to $10 (tip optional via the online interface) but is reduced to no cost on orders of certain sizes or when customers reach “Big Radish” status for certain order volumes within specified periods of time.
Customer Service: My front door is exposed to a relatively active street, and on one occasion we did have a couple of bags swiped after they were delivered, before we woke up. (Either that or they were forgotten in the truck.) The Amazon Fresh customer service department was extremely responsive, refunding the purchase price for the items and suggesting a time when I could have them delivered again.
Bags/Bins: The insulated Amazon Fresh bags are easy to handle, and I’ve never had a problem with any refrigerated food spoiling. The weirdest situation I’ve encountered is when ordering one or two frozen items. They tend to come in a large ice chest inside a bin, and unless you’re ordering a lot of frozen items it seems like a huge waste of space. It’s also not as easy to store the large bins as the flexible bags.
Produce: Here’s where the service starts to show a bit of wear, literally. The produce has been very hit-and-miss. I’ve received pineapples from Amazon that were perfect and sweet, and pineapples that were bordering on rotten and really shouldn’t have been eaten, even though I cut into them within a few hours of delivery. That’s just one example. My advice: Pay very close attention to the individual produce ratings before ordering.
Meat/Poultry: And this is where ordering meat from Amazon Fresh has been outlawed in our household. Suffice it to say we’ve received some very questionable cuts of steak, and one particular package of ground turkey that had the entire family suffering for a couple days after the meal.
Prices: Without question, you’re going to be paying more for the convenience of Amazon Fresh, even before the delivery fees noted above. In fact, when Amazon talks about tweaking the business model, my hunch is that one of those “tweaks” is testing the willingness of its customer base to withstand price increases, to make the service more profitable for Amazon.
This is far from scientific, but to illustrate the point, here’s a sample of product prices on Amazon Fresh, compared to prices at a nearby Fred Meyer. Whenever possible, the comparison is to the same brand.
Bottom line: Amazon Fresh has been a great addition to options for grocery shopping, and we prize it for the convenience … but it hasn’t completely replaced the neighborhood grocery store, at least not yet.
Other Amazon Fresh users in Seattle: Does this differ from or match your own experience? Any advice or tips for others using the service, or those who might see it arrive in their cities in the coming months?