Despite my knowing many of Amazon's flaws — the hatchet they've taken to the publication industry, the warehouses where low-paid workers race around all day putting orders into smiley-face boxes — I love using Amazon services.
Amazon is literally where I shop; I made six individual orders from Amazon in January alone, which averages out to a little more than one purchase per week. Two of these orders were for clothing, one was a Kindle book, and the other three were for streaming media, including season passes to Broad City and Downton Abbey.)
So I am the perfect candidate for Amazon Prime Now, Amazon's new delivery service that promises to get you select Amazon catalog items in one hour. The only trouble is that I don't live in "select areas of Manhattan," the only part of the country where Amazon Prime Now is currently available.
That is, until I traveled to New York to perform at The Billfold Live. It was the perfect opportunity for me to see if Amazon Prime Now would, in fact, deliver.
1:52 p.m., Thursday, January 29: The first step in ordering from Amazon Prime Now is downloading the Amazon Prime Now app. This is already disappointing. My HTC Evo phone is two years old and getting glitchy, and I'd much rather run my Amazon Prime Now experience through my 11-inch MacBook Air. If this service is really designed for people who are sitting in their homes or offices and need fast delivery service, why shouldn't it be browser-ready? Why does Amazon think I'm going to want to turn away from my laptop, which is for all intents and purposes my office, and pick up my laggy, prone-to-crash phone?
Luckily for me, the app downloads quickly and easily. The APN app wants access to my "identity," which sounds a little unnerving but appears to be the cost of getting select items from the vast Amazon catalog delivered to my door in an hour. I gladly hand my identity away.
I sign in to the APN app with my Amazon account, noting that Amazon is one of the few services that has never once asked me to change my password, not since I first set up my Amazon account in college. I wonder why. I wonder if I should change it. (I don't change it. I have stuff to order and receive in an hour, after all.)
The next step is to enter my delivery address. I'm staying at the Pod 39 Hotel—the Pod Hotel is my go-to hotel whenever I visit NYC, since I'm perfectly fine with a room small enough you can Vine the entire thing—and Amazon Prime Now will in fact deliver to my pod.
If I order right now, they tell me, you can get your items by 3:01 p.m.
I am so excited. You have no idea.
I already know what I'm going to order: bobby pins. If you have the type of hair that requires bobby pins to stay in place, you know how easy they are to lose, and I need to stock up if I'm going to pull off this 1950s-esque updo that I plan to match to my 1950s vintage gown for Formal Night on the JoCo Cruise (it's a cruise, we dress up, just roll with it). I'm a non-natural redhead, so I'm hoping to grab a pack of the reddish-brown Conair Matte Mini Pins that I usually pick up at the Rite Aid.
But Amazon, which I often mistakenly believe sells everything, does not sell Conair Matte Mini Pins through its Amazon Prime Now service. Instead, they give me a single result:
Vidal Sassoon Bobby Pins, Brown, 60 Ct, $2.69.
Below the Vidal Sassoon bobby pins, Amazon lists a few related results like straight pins and rolling pins, failing to pick up that I'm looking for something to secure my hair, not my interfacing or my pie dough.
But that's okay. I'm happy enough to grab this pack of bobby pins that aren't my favorite, just to get a chance to test out this new service. The odds are that I'll lose all 60 bobby pins soon enough anyway.
I tap my phone to start the checkout process, but Amazon stops me with the message "Prime Now requires an order of $15.00 or more for delivery." I guess that's fair. I already feel a little weird about having someone bring bobby pins to my door when I could walk down the street, buy my own, and be back in my pod in five minutes. I might as well shop for a few more items, to make this worth both Amazon's and my time.
Since I'm flying to Fort Lauderdale tomorrow to board the JoCo Cruise, I decide to buy a book to read on the plane.
I type in "books" to see what APN recommends. I wonder if the app has access to previous book purchases and my Kindle reading history. I check a lot of Kindle books out of the library, so I'm hoping that APN considers these titles along with my purchased titles before offering me customized recommendations.
Amazon's top result for "books" is Happy Hippo, Angry Duck: A Book of Moods by Sandra Boynton. The APN app clearly does not have access to my Amazon reading history.
I try searching "bestselling books" and get another list of kids' books. Little kid books, like board books. Amazon Prime Now must front-load these titles because they are popular APN orders, right? I'm picturing a parent ordering a book from his phone with one hand while helping a child brush her teeth with the other, to get the book in time for a bedtime story. If you are a Manhattan parent who needed Bill Martin Jr.'s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom in an hour, please tell me. I want to know how many of you there are, and how you ended up dominating the APN bestseller list.
For my next round of searching, I type in the title of a book I want to read: Lisa Genova's Still Alice. No luck, although Amazon helpfully suggests the Alice in Wonderland Two-Disc Special Un-Anniversary Edition. (Get with it, Amazon. If I've done three searches for books, I don't know why you're showing me DVDs.)
Then I search for Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind. Amazon returns Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises 2-Disc Blu-Ray+DVD Combo Pack.
Does Amazon Prime Now sell adult popular fiction at all? I try a blanket search for "mystery books" and get The Boxcar Children Books 1-12. I scroll past several children's titles until I eventually find a few adult titles, including Gone Girl and Ready Player One—which won't work for this purchase because I've already read both of them (and enjoyed one of them).
So, fine. I guess I won't be buying books. What else do I need?
I like sparkling water, so I add a liter bottle of San Pellegrino ($1.50) to my order. I wonder if it will arrive cold. This feels ridiculous, like I am the most decadent and silly person ever. I am going to order this bottled water and then I am going to be disappointed when Amazon delivers a room-temperature bottle. In the midst of luxury, I am frustrated that my experience is not luxurious enough.
Then I get inspired to search "Patrick Rothfuss" instead of "The Name of the Wind," and his book pops right up for $7.99. Chicka-chicka-boom-BOOM! Added to cart! Can I check out yet?
Amazon Prime Now tells me I still need at least $2.82 of merchandise. Okay.
Searching "Lisa Genova" does not pull Still Alice. I search "Cory Doctorow" just to see if his books are on Amazon Prime Now, but they aren't, and I've already read most of them anyway.
Then I search for string cheese to eat as a travel snack, but Amazon Prime Now doesn't offer that either.
This is the hard part, finding $3 worth of stuff to fill out your sack. If Amazon Prime Now offered me a button that read "I will pay the extra $2.82 out of pocket," I would tap it so fast.
In the end, mostly out of a desire to just get this over with, I decide to buy the second Patrick Rothfuss Kingkiller Chronicle book, The Wise Man's Fear, for $6.64.
2:26 p.m.: I am finally ready to check out my Amazon Prime Now cart with $18.82 worth of items even though all I really needed was the $2.69 pack of bobby pins.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE. Even though Amazon Prime Now has been reminding me to "order now and get it by 3 p.m." since I first opened the app, the checkout interface tells me I have to pay an extra $7.99 to get it within an hour. NOPE OCTOPUS, Amazon. I have already put twice as much time into this shopping experience than I wanted to, and I am not going to add an extra $7.99. I tell Amazon that I am willing to wait two hours to get my delivery for free.
Then they ask me for a $5.00 delivery tip, which—you know, I believe tipping well is important, and I'm still angry at Amazon for springing this at the very end of my order. Of course I'll pay the $5. (These two Patrick Rothfuss books had better be worth it.)
My final total is $25.36. I know that $18.82 plus $5 does not equal $25.36, which probably means that Amazon slipped tax or a service charge in there somewhere, but I don't care any more.
2:30 p.m.: "Thanks Nicole! Your order is being prepared." The APN app shows me a little map, like they're Uber. I close the app. Maybe they would have shown me my order traveling across the screen in real time. I'll never find out, because I have work to do and can't stare at my phone. If they had made it a browser app, I probably would have kept the tab open to watch the little APN icon make its way across the screen.
4:11 p.m.: I get a text: "Your Amazon Prime Now order will arrive soon." I wonder if there was a meeting about whether this sentence should end with a period or an exclamation point. I wonder why exclamation point lost.
I also wonder if I should give a cash tip to my delivery person, along with the $5 that I paid to the app. I decide against it and feel weird about it.
4:30 p.m.: The front desk calls and lets me know that "someone from Amazon is here." My delivery person is a young black woman. If this were a different kind of story, I would interview her about her job. Instead I take an enormous paper sack from her and thank her. I watch for any body language that would have suggested some people give out cash tips—that tiny hesitation to see if I reach into my wallet after accepting the bag—but she moves on without pausing. Maybe APN doesn't let its delivery staff accept cash tips.
My Amazon Prime Now delivery comes with an overwhelming amount of packaging. The San Pellegrino bottle is wrapped in a double layer of bubble wrap, and even the bobby pins get their own protective plastic cover. The two paperbacks are left unwrapped.
I array and survey my bounty, feeling like a complete chump. I paid $25 bucks for a bunch of stuff I didn't need, just to get a pack of bobby pins. At least I'll get to enjoy some delicious sparkling water—which is room temperature, as I predicted.
And then I learn that I can't open the bottle of San Pellegrino, because it isn't a screw top. I bloody my knuckles trying to pop the thing open with a key and one of the 60 bobby pins, and give up. At least I know one place that can deliver me a bottle opener in just over two hours.