We tested Amazon’s new one-hour delivery service in Atlanta

Is it worth it? It depends how desperate you are. Is it really an hour? That depends on where you live.

Last month, Amazon rolled out its Prime Now one-hour delivery service to Atlanta. There are some situations—a hangover, a colicky baby, an “Orange Is the New Black” binge—in which we could imagine being too desperate for essentials to get off the couch, let alone leave home to run errands. But could Prime Now help us out of more prosaic dilemmas? We constructed a few plausible scenarios, synchronized our watches, and placed our orders at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 13. We decided that every order should include one common item, and settled on practical Brawny paper towels.

Here’s the general lowdown on the service. It’s available to Amazon Prime customers only (folks who pay $99 annually for free two-day delivery and other perks). It’s only available in select metro zip codes (click here for the current list). And it’ll cost you $7.99 for one-hour delivery (same day, two-hour service is free). To use the service, you have to download the Prime Now app, which lets you browse from a limited Amazon inventory.

Tester 1: 30306, Virginia-Highland/Emory

Delivery Circumstances: An apartment in a gated community

Scenario: I invited friends over for dinner but the cupboards are bare. So I’m placing an order while getting ready for work—versus fighting traffic to hit the grocery store on the way home.

Shopping Experience: If you share my dream of having Pizza Rolls delivered at 11 p.m., prepare for disappointment: Prime Now is limited to non-perishable items. But the biggest frustration is not being able to view categories of food within the grocery section of the app. Unless you know exactly what you want and can use the search function, you’ll scroll through endless screens of canned soup, cereal, baby food, and a surprising array of San Pellegrino products. That said, once you accept that there’s nothing but processed food, the selection is impressive (several varieties of coconut milk, Tikka Masala sauce, competitively priced Sriracha). Favorite item I stumbled across? A 24-pack of Mexican Coca-Cola in glass bottles. Well done, Amazon.

30306_Amazon_PrimeNow_Test_2Trying to restrict my order to stuff I would actually eat—or serve people—I crafted a menu of whole wheat pasta with cannelloni beans, artichoke hearts, olives, Parmesan cheese, and tomato sauce. I added chips and salsa as an appetizer. The subliminal messaging sunk in, because I threw in a six-pack of San Pellegrino. (Somehow I clicked on raisins while browsing and forgot to delete them from my cart, so they ended up in the order, too.)

Order Placed: 8:32 a.m. I only learned at checkout that one-hour delivery wasn’t available for 30306, so opted for free two-hour delivery.

Order Arrived: 10:22 a.m. I didn’t get buzzed from the gate, so either gate was open or the driver followed someone in.

Delivery Notes: Aside from a small dent in the can of beans, nothing was damaged. The glass bottles and cans were wrapped in bubble wrap.

Good to Know: I didn’t realize until after I placed my order that you can view nutritional info on products by swiping to see additional photos. I also learned that the app saves your delivery instructions from previous orders.

Grade: C-
Note, that’s the grade for my intended scenario. To be fair, the app probably isn’t intended to be used for grocery shopping—and it is really convenient. I will absolutely use Prime Now again; just not for groceries.

Tester 2: 30318, Home Park

Delivery Circumstances: Single family house

Scenario: I haven’t done laundry and just spilled coffee on the one clean shirt I had to wear to work today. Can I order a replacement top while I finish breakfast?

IMG_1108Shopping Experience: While you can order all kinds of clothes through Amazon Prime for two-day delivery, when it comes to same-day service, options are limited: Braves and Falcons Ts (ugly, and weird sizes); Columbia sports shirts (look like something for safari); or a Batman shirt with a cape. Needless to say, I ordered the one with the cape. Obviously, while this might be plausible for someone in a creative field like mine, it’s not for most people.

Order Placed: 8:30 a.m.

Order Tracking: At 8:56 a.m., I got a text saying my order would arrive soon.

Order Arrived: 9:09 a.m.

Delivery Notes: The delivery guy rang the doorbell. He was very friendly. I didn’t have to sign anything, but he asked me to open the paper bag to make sure I got what I ordered. I did! And now I own a shirt with a super hero cape.

Grade: B
Obviously, this is no replacement for online clothes shopping. But the delivery was fast and efficient, and I could see using Prime Now in the future for more practical things.

Tester 3: 30312, Old Fourth Ward

Delivery Circumstances: Apartment building in which packages are usually delivered to the leasing office.

Scenario: I have book club tonight and totally did not read the book, so need to skim as much as possible during work. Also, it would be nice to bring a little gift for the club host.

Malone_Amazon_OrderShopping Experience: The book—”Girl on a Train”—was easy to find, not surprising given that Amazon started out as a bookseller. But the hunt for a gift was hard. Alas, Prime Now does not deliver alcohol, so even if they were available Stateside, the protagonist’s signature canned G&Ts would not be an option. When I entered “British” in the search bar, the first listing was a DVD of “Sense & Sensibility.” Then a came a pair of “British” khaki pants, followed by Walkers Shortbread, which seemed appropriate. I scrolled a little more and selected some Twinings Earl Grey.

Order Placed: 8:33 a.m. It took a minute or two to verify my address and credit card info, even with my products queued beforehand. Although there was space to write delivery instructions, I chose not to—just to see what would happen. I did check a box indicating that it was okay to leave a delivery at my door.

Order Tracking: Delivery person Martavious called me at 9:22 a.m., but I missed the call. I got a call from his supervisor two minutes later saying the apartment office manager wouldn’t let him in. Amazon texted me to say the package had been officially delivered by 9:27 a.m.

Order Pick-Up: 9:30 a.m. I walked down to the office, and they explained that because I hadn’t given permission to let Amazon up (I wasn’t aware I had to do that but might look into it for the future), they couldn’t let the delivery person through. This means that I could only order from Prime Now for delivery during my leasing office’s business hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., not practical for when I would actually use it—after work or on weekends.

Delivery Details: Everything was adorably packaged in a brown paper brown bag, but the paper towels were on their own.

Grade: B+
It was relatively easy and the delivery was on time. But that said, I probably won’t use it again because delivery to my building is too complicated.

Tester 4: 30339, Cobb

Delivery Circumstances: Gated apartment complex

Scenario: Pet emergency! The dog crate is broken and I can’t go to work and leave the dog home alone uncrated.

Bailey2Shopping Experience: Prime Now has a surprisingly good selection of dog crates. Small, medium, large, one door, two door—you name it; it’s there. The prices were so reasonable, I threw in a chew toy to keep the dog entertained while he’s home alone. After selecting my items, I learned that the only option for my zip code was a two-hour delivery, but it seemed worthwhile to wait. I assumed this meant “delivered within two hours of ordering.” Instead I was given a delivery window of 10 a.m. to noon.

Order Placed: 8:40 a.m.

Order Tracking: At 10:12, I received a text with tracking information for my order: The driver was almost at my freeway exit. Thanks to red lights and a wrong turn in my apartment complex, though, it took another 18 minutes for me to get my package. Lesson learned: Since the drivers don’t deliver here regularly, next time be more specific with my instructions.

Order Arrived: 10:30 a.m., or less than two hours

Delivery Notes: I live in a huge, multilevel apartment complex with a gated entry and a callbox on my building’s front door. Unlike UPS or FedEx, which seem to have codes to everything, Prime Now is more like pizza delivery: I buzz the driver in at the gate; he calls me from outside my building; and I run downstairs to meet him. Since the drivers don’t deliver here regularly, next time I would be more specific with my instructions. The driver picked up the heavy dog crate and carried it to my second-floor apartment without me even having to ask. Before he left, he asked me to check my order to make sure everything was there. It was.

What I Learned: I think two-hour Prime Now is ideal if your “emergency” can wait until the end of the workday—if I were going out of town after work and needed a crate to take with me, I could schedule it to be delivered to my office. If you need the item immediately, though, you’re probably better off running to the store: I could have picked up a crate and returned home in 30 minutes.

Grade: B+
Great experience and great selection for my particular order, but the two-hour delivery and having to buzz in the driver limit its usefulness.

Tester 5: 30312, Cabbagetown

Delivery Circumstances: Gated loft complex with additional internal gates and callboxes

Scenario: Houseguests will be arriving–while I’m at work. There are no clean sheets and I need to spruce up the guest bathroom.

Shopping Experience: While there are oodles of crib sheets (evidently baby = emergency in the Prime Now universe) when it came to queen size, I could select between one brand of coAmazon_30312tton (pastels or icky beige) or one brand of satin (chocolate brown only). I found a few nice soaps, but only one kind of hand towel—paper with a baroque elephant design. I love elephants, but can see how others would be vexed. (Aside: When I entered “hand” in the search bar, the first thing that autofilled was “handcuffs.” Evidently Prime Now has other guest emergencies in mind.) I was happy to see a scented candle from local company PaddyWax. Sadly, the only fragrance was Tobacco and Patchouli, so I opted for a mass market Mrs. Meyers. A family pack of toothbrushes rounded out the practicalities. I like to give guests Atlanta-themed books or guides, but there was little to be found. (Note to Amazon: Atlanta magazine would make a great addition to your inventory.) I selected a 75th anniversary edition of “Gone with the Wind.”

Order Placed: 8:32 a.m. I had to go through a few steps to set up shipping and, amid this confusion, forgot to enter a $20 discount code Amazon emailed me.

Order Tracking: A text alerted me that the delivery was in process, so I tracked it in the app, which was fun/creepy. A purple dot on the screen traced the delivery from somewhere near College Park to our gate. Evidently the driver was stuck at the light at Edgewood and Boulevard for a while.

Order Delivery: 9:19 a.m. It would have been even sooner except for some difficultly with our gates.

Delivery Notes: Two drivers arrived at the door, carrying two heavy brown paper sacks and a roll of paper towels.

Grade: B+
Yes, I could have driven to Target and had more to choose from. But that would have taken more than an hour—and prices are about the same. I might not use Prime Now for bed linens, but in a pinch, this service would be really handy for commodity items.

Tester 6: 30030, Decatur

Delivery Circumstances: Single family home

Scenario: I desperately need a card and gift for a kid’s birthday party.

Decatur_Amazon_PrimeNow_2Shopping Options: Plenty for kids, and plenty that’s cheap—1,104 items, to be precise. Remember the board game Sorry? $7.87. Also, Hot Wheels cars, jigsaw puzzles, and lots of Lego sets. The birthday card options were a little disappointing though; nothing much for kids.

Order Placed: 8:34 a.m. One-hour wasn’t available to my zip code. So instead I opted for free delivery between 10 a.m. and noon. Incidentally, the tip is automatically included ($5), though you can take it out. (I left it in.) They sent an email letting me know I could track the order, though I didn’t avail myself.

Order Arrived: 10:30 a.m.

Delivery Notes: The driver was very polite. Said, “Here’s your package from Amazon Prime!”

Grade: A
C’mon, this is magic.