GeekWire has discovered a “confidential” new Amazon facility that’s getting ready to launch Prime Now one-hour delivery in the Seattle area, as well as a completely new service called “Amazon Flex.”
The company hasn’t yet announced the new offering and didn’t respond to questions about how it will work. But signs inside the company’s new Kirkland, Wash., facility indicate Amazon Flex will be a new way for the company to distribute packages, possibly letting customers pick up items from the Prime Now center themselves.
Amazon has also been reported to be considering crowdsourced package delivery, although it’s not clear if Amazon Flex is related.
An Amazon Flex sign inside the Kirkland location reads, “Please take a ticket located behind you. Please look for your number on the top corner of the wall on your left. Proceed to pick up your package once your number is displayed.”
The Kirkland facility also makes it clear that Amazon is preparing to launch its Prime Now one-hour delivery service in the Seattle area, something the company hasn’t publicly acknowledged. GeekWire has reported on the Prime Now plans since planning documents for sites in Kirkland, North Seattle and the northern edge of downtown Seattle started popping up in May.
Based on liquor license applications for the three Amazon sites, the Seattle-area locations are poised to become the first Prime Now operations in the U.S. to offer speedy delivery of beer, wine and liquor. Prime Now launched alcohol delivery in the U.K. earlier this year.
There has been a flurry of activity at the Prime Now site near downtown Seattle in recent days. GeekWire observed delivery drivers in training sessions at the facility on Monday. Crews are still putting the finishing touches on the building, a former car dealership on part of Amazon’s new campus in the Denny Triangle area.
But the Kirkland location — which is where we found the Amazon Flex signs — seems to be already up and running. Workers were sorting and loading packages on shelves for pickup by drivers. However, the Prime Now app doesn’t yet enable deliveries to zip codes in the Seattle region.
We’ve heard the Prime Now service will work in the Seattle area just like it has in other cities since it first launched in New York in December 2014. The service is only available to Amazon Prime members and costs $7.99 for one-hour delivery and is free for two-hour delivery. The service will also deliver hot food from restaurants. It will also offer a large selection of food and household items, according to documents filed by Amazon with the King County Public Health Department, obtained by GeekWire through a public records request.
Amazon is working with delivery companies including Act Fast Delivery and Alpha Courier to provide the drivers. Both companies have recently posted jobs in the Seattle area, talking about a chance to work with one of the world’s largest retailers to deliver small packages — though they didn’t explicitly name Amazon.
And here’s some news for residents of the Rose City: Act Fast has posted an identical job description for openings in Portland, Ore., which is a pretty strong indication Prime Now will be going there next. “Oregon we are FINALLY ready to launch the newest most exciting delivery service yet,” the post reads.
But it looks like what’s coming to Amazon’s hometown isn’t the run-of-the-mill Prime Now service we’ve seen before.
First, the company has received licenses at all three Seattle area sites for “alcohol Internet sales.” One license, posted outside the Kirkland site, classifies the facility as a grocery store that can carry beer, wine and spirits.
The company didn’t respond to questions about its alcohol delivery plans, but it appears the Seattle area will be the first in the U.S. where Prime Now will offer one- or two-hour booze delivery. Amazon previously delivered alcohol through its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service in the Seattle area, but the company phased that out in April, much to the dismay of GeekWire readers. We’ve asked Amazon if it plans to rollout speedy alcohol delivery across the country, but we haven’t heard back yet.
The second unique aspect of the Seattle-area rollout is the new Amazon Flex logos plastered all over the Prime Now center in Kirkland. When you walk in the door of the facility, it feels very much like a distribution warehouse, complete with employee lockers, a security gate and a maze of product shelves.
You’re immediately greeted with a sign that directs delivery drivers to enter one way to pick up their packages, and Amazon Flex users in another direction. Tables near the door serve as the Flex waiting area. A sign instructs you to take a number and wait to pick up your package when your number is shown on a DMV-style board.
To be clear, Amazon Flex could be a lot of things. Based on what we saw, however, we think it is one of two likely possibilities: a new option that lets online shoppers pickup their own packages from the distribution center themselves, or a new crowdsourced delivery option that will use Uber-like drivers to make deliveries, much like what rideshare company Sidecar has been doing more of recently.
The first possibility would be reminiscent of the drive-up grocery the company is reportedly building in Sunnyvale, Calif., as the Silicon Valley Business Journal has heard from its sources.
After visiting the Kirkland facility on Tuesday morning, GeekWire was eventually asked to leave. We were told Amazon is still working out a launch schedule, but in the meantime the project remains “confidential.” For all other questions we were referred to the company’s PR team, which didn’t respond to an email before publication.
The Seattle facility looks like it still needs quite a bit of work before it will be ready to open, but workers were already packing up shipping bags inside the Kirkland location. So it’s safe to say Prime Now — and whatever else Amazon has up its sleeve — will be launching soon in Amazon’s home region.