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Opening of Amazon Fresh Pickup in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Amazon launched its new AmazonFresh Pickup grocery service for Amazon Prime members at two Seattle locations this morning, and GeekWire jumped at the opportunity to be the first people outside of the company’s own employees to try it out. Watch the video below, and continue reading for details.

The concept is simple: Order your groceries online and pick them up in a designated time window at the AmazonFresh Pickup location. And the experience was, in fact, largely seamless for me, and it promises to be even faster next time as long as I’m able to give up a bit of our privacy by letting Amazon store my license plate.

I started at the AmazonFresh Pickup landing page, choosing Ballard as our location.

We selected a dozen items — ranging from apples to avocados, bratwurst for the grilland even a bottle of Listerine — for a subtotal of $32.47. The service is free for Amazon Prime members, who pay $99/year. Prime members who pay an additional $15/month for the Amazon Prime Fresh Add-on service, to get grocery delivery, have the added luxury of being able to pick up their items within 15 minutes of ordering them. As standard Prime member, I was able to select from two-hour pickup windows, available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The selection was strong overall, but there were some items that I wanted that weren’t available, including dental flossers and fresh corn on the cob. (Both of those were available via the ClickList grocery pickup service at the nearby Fred Meyer store in Ballard, but more on that later.) Here’s our full AmazonFresh Pickup order.

I used my regular Amazon account to make the order. It asked me to re-enter my credit card information, to confirm that it was me the first time, but other than that, the process was just like ordering anything else on Amazon. My order went through at 6:17 a.m., for pickup between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., and I was able to make changes and additions until 7 a.m.

Here’s the first cool thing that happened: Just before 9 a.m., I received a notification from the Amazon app on my iPhone telling me that my order was ready for pickup. Impressive integration with Amazon’s existing infrastructure, and a stark contrast with the pickup services that I’ve used at traditional grocery stores.

Then it was go time. We drove into the AmazonFresh Pickup location in Ballard around 9:15 a.m. When we pulled in, the automated sign light up, “Welcome,” and a worker came out to greet me, entering my name into a tablet that he was holding.

It took him a little bit of time to check me in using the tablet, but this is the issue that Amazon is aiming to solve using the automated license plate check-in, which works after the first visit, once Amazon associates you with your license plate. It appears to work using sensors in the sign at the front of each parking space. This auto check-in is in effect unless customers change their settings to opt out. I’ll test this out on a subsequent visit.

Opening of Amazon Fresh Pickup in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The workers were helpful and fast, and even with the manual check-in, we were in and out in five minutes. I have a hunch that time will shrink further as they get up to speed, along with the automated check-in process.

The groceries were packed much like they would be at a traditional grocery store, in paper bags with plastic bags inside containing the vegetables. The AmazonFresh delivery service often uses insulated bags, to account for the fact that the items will be left on the doorstep for an extended period in many cases.

GeekWire’s Todd Bishop with his historic first grocery order outside the AmazonFresh Pickup location in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

As a test, I ordered the same items from Fred Meyer’s ClickList, and the total was about $29, compared to more than $32 from AmazonFresh Pickup. However, Fred Meyer and its Kroger sister stores charge an extra $4.95 service fee for the ClickList service, and the process is decidedly more cumbersome, requiring you to call a number when you arrive and swipe a card at pickup.

AmazonFresh Pickup does require a Prime membership, but especially if you’re already a member, this is a no-brainer. Amazon is already better at grocery pickup than traditional grocery stores are, and it’s only going to improve from here.

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