Business, Features

New Amazon Instant Pickup competes with established campus retailers

Amazon Instant Pickup opens at 870 Commonwealth Ave., providing same-hour delivery to Boston residents. PHOTO BY SYDNEY MAES/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Uncluttered and seemingly empty upon first glance, Amazon’s new storefront at 870 Commonwealth Ave. couldn’t look less like a convenience store.

Nevertheless, Amazon’s Instant Pickup locations, which offer two-minute pickups on select popular essentials for Prime members, are competing with the traditional convenience store model.

Amazon spokesperson Carly Golden touted the unique benefits of Boston’s new Instant Pickup location in an email to The Daily Free Press.

“At Amazon, we are laser focused on our customers and giving them the best experience,” Golden wrote. “[email protected] will offer all Amazon customers the convenience and security of a pickup location, and will enable Prime members to take advantage of Free Same-Day Pickup, order by noon, pick up later that day, as well as Instant Pickup.”

While the majority of the Instant Pickup process is digitized, Amazon still relies on human employees at its pickup locations.

“I help customers and assist them with their package deliveries, package drop-offs and give them demonstrations of what we do here at the Amazon location,” said William Beebe, an employee at the new location.

The store has been busy since it opened Aug. 30, according to Alex Smith, an employee at the new location and Boston University graduate.

“We’ve mostly been running demos on these little iPod touches,” Smith said. “Also, a ton of returns. We haven’t had a huge volume of incoming packages yet, mostly because we just opened. People are still figuring out that we’re here.”

Smith explained the instant delivery service from button-press to pick up.

“There’s storage lockers back there,” Smith said, gesturing to the back of the store. “When you press ‘Get my Package,’ we just take it from where we have it stored … We scan it, and then put it in whatever locker [the scanner] says to put [your package] in.”

Smith suggested that the Instant Pickup location could serve as a more efficient alternative to university mailrooms for students.

“When I was in dorms, I had negative mailroom experiences,” Smith said. “Amazon would send you an email that says your package is delivered, but the BU mailroom … for whatever reason, wouldn’t scan it in, sometimes until the next day.”

Rachel Harmon, a freshman in the Questrom School of Business, said she prefers Amazon’s Instant Pickup service to regular two-day prime delivery.

“It’s literally the same day if you order it [to the Instant Pickup location], which is more convenient than two-day shipping, which I know is very convenient already, but if you can get it the same day, that’s even better,” Harmon said.

Weighing Amazon’s new storefront against the neighboring Target, which opened last fall, Harmon said Amazon is more cost-effective.

“There’s a Target, but you can get stuff cheaper on Amazon,” Harmon said. “I still like the Target for water and food things.”

Natalie Wong, a sophomore in the College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said the stores serve different purposes.

“I think I use them for different things. I don’t really order things online at Target,” Wong said. She added that she would be more likely to shop at Amazon for very specific items but would still visit Target for more general supplies, like shampoo and conditioner.

Smith sees the location’s surrounding competitors as a valuable test of the Instant Pickup concept’s viability.

“If Instant Pickup can succeed here, with a 7-Eleven right here and a Target right there, it can probably succeed anywhere,” Smith said.

Presently, the Commonwealth Avenue store is one of only six locations across the country offering Instant Pickup, all of which are on or near college campuses. While college campuses are part of what inspired the creation of the pickup locations, Golden wrote, Amazon plans to extend their reach beyond those campuses.

“Initially, we saw a problem that needed to be solved in campus mailrooms across the country,” Golden wrote, “As we evolved and saw the benefit our pickup locations brought to our customers, it made sense to expand beyond the college campus to become a benefit to communities at large.”

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