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Business Wed Aug 12 2015

Prime is Now Comin' to Town

I want it, and I want it NOW. And now, there is an app for that, too. Well, kinda sorta. In a culture that has become all too obsessed with instant gratification, Amazon has prevailed once again in delivering its customers a *seemingly* fantastic product, Prime Now.

Now, we can shop from the convenience of our phones, and by the time we get home from work that day, all of our groceries, appliances, clothing and any other worldly goods you can think of will be sitting on our doorsteps. No errand-running required. And it's free. This sounds like something that is too good to be true. In some ways, it is, and in others, it's not.

Let me begin by taking you through the process I went through this morning, when I realized I needed to order one of those vacuum-pack space bags before my trip next week. You see, I need to be able to fit a sleeping bag and week's worth of clothes into a carry-on. No easy feat. So, I figured I would buy a couple of space bags, and they would do the trick.

I went to Amazon Smile, which I use instead of the regular Amazon because if you're shopping on Amazon, you should be using the Smile version, but more on that later. I selected the space bags I wanted to order, and as I was about to check out, one of Amazon's little in-house ads caught my eye: "Two-hour delivery."

I had heard about Prime Now's recent roll-out in Chicagoland, and figured I would try and see if my suburb about 20 minutes outside city limits could be reached by this futuristic delivery system. It was within their range, so I went for it. I downloaded the free app, and as a Prime Student member, was able to use it instantly.

It was pretty annoying, however, that I couldn't just access the Prime Now service on my computer. I mean, I was already there, ready to check out, and now I had to go download an app and find my items again. Not fun. In all honestly, Amazon should just ask for your zip code when you start shopping, and then put a little icon next to items that have Prime Now eligibility, and make that a shipping option. A separate app just convolutes things.

Anyway, back to my adventures with Prime Now. I got on the app, submitted my zip code, and then searched for "space bag" on Prime Now and was surprised. There was only one result, while on the Amazon Smile page there had been hundreds, if not thousands. I clicked on it. It was actually a better deal than the pack I was going to buy. This one was $14.99 and had four bags in it, while the original was $12, but only came with two bags. The result had good reviews, so I put it in my cart.

Amazon Prime NowI proceeded to check out, but was stopped when I could not select the "checkout" button in my cart. "What the hell..." I thought to myself. I then looked to the top of my screen. There was a little message written in red, "Add $0.01 of items to check out." Insert audible groan here. Turns out you need to make a purchase of $15 or more to get it now. And Amazon wasn't going to fudge that one cent for me. They were going to make me buy something else if I wanted to use Prime Now.

So, because I really wanted to test it at this point, I decided I would buy a few groceries to make up that one freaking cent. I bought a $2.49 bag of organic tofu (pretty good price) and a $1.49 cup of Chobani (not so good price, it's a single serve size cup after all). Those were really the only two things on their grocery list that I needed or wanted to have. I also thought it would be interesting to see how they would handle goods that needed to be refrigerated.

By the time it was all said and done, my purchase was in by 10:30 this morning. True to their word, my package was delivered by 12:45. So a bit over the two-hour window, but I'll account that to the crappy traffic that exists throughout our fair city. I was even able to watch on a map as the delivery truck made its way from my local distribution center in downtown Chicago to my house. I saw that it took I-90 to get there, and watched as it left the package on my doorstep. It's no drone, but it sure is no small feat either.

When I had first placed the order, they allowed me the option to select a two-hour window for when my items would be delivered. I chose the quickest, the 12pm to 2pm window, to see how they would do. I have to admit, though, scheduling the arrival of a package so you know you would be home for it is a pretty awesome and handy feature.

Now for the next interesting, but potentially not-as-awesome feature. Tipping. Amazon suggests that you tip the driver, with my suggested tip being $5 on a $19 purchase. That's over 20 percent, which is pretty intriguing given Amazon's past labor abuses and fights over taxes to keep prices low in the past. Amazon hates raising rates for purchases. But apparently, when it comes to tipping, they're all for it.

Before I placed my order, I adjusted the tip to $4, which I saw as reasonable since it was 20 percent. Once I had received my order, I decided to review the order details in the app. To my surprise, I saw that I was able to adjust the tip up to 48 hours after receiving my order.

This is a great feature for the consumer. It allows you to give more money to your delivery person if they did a good job, when you might be feeling a bit stingy when you realize Amazon probably doesn't pay them all that much. On the flip side, if they don't do a great job, if your items arrive broken or spoiled, you can reduce the tip. So, it's good for you. Kind of.

Honestly, you're kind of an ass if you take away the tip you promised them, even if they did a bad job. It's like putting the tip on your bill after a meal out, walking out with your leftovers, and then deciding that, since they weren't packed up properly when they start to leak in the car, you're going to go back to the restaurant, and demand at least part of your tip back. It's just not something you should do. But it's something Prime Now allows you to do. Hmmm... In the end, I decided to raise the tip on my purchase to $5. My driver had done a good a job, and I felt guilty about not paying the suggested amount.

But on to my least favorite aspect of Prime Now. As far as I can tell, there is no way to connect your Amazon Smile account to Prime Now. Amazon Smile is an option that allows 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to be donated to the charity of your choice. While 0.5 percent seems minute, it's much better than just using regular Amazon and not having anything go to charity. But since I can't hook Amazon Smile up to Prime Now, every time I decide to use the app, instead of the website, the charity of my choice is losing the pittance that Amazon gives them off my already paltry purchases. With Prime Now, they're not getting anything at all when I buy something. Without the incentive of charitable giving, I don't foresee a future in which I use Prime Now to shop. Especially when the money from my purchases would otherwise be going back into my local economy and supporting my community.

So, my ultimate verdict: Prime Now is a good product when you're in a pinch, don't have time to run errands, and need something today. Otherwise, get off the couch, quit being lazy, and go to the store. Have some human interaction. Unplug yourself from your multitude of screens. Support your local businesses, your neighbors, and friends. Be smart about where you spend your dollar, and think heavily about who you want to be giving it to. Because while Amazon may have the better upfront deal on that toaster, the next time you see an empty storefront, think long and hard about its true, long-term cost.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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