Some Whole Foods locations in New York City today launched a new delivery option for Prime members. The big pitch is that these Amazon–enabled groceries arrive fast, possibly within an hour, which means the promise of getting store-to-door fish heads and LaCroix pamplemousse is now a reality (at least in the parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island where the service is currently offered), but does it work as promised? Grub Street loaded up the Prime Now app and gave it a shot.
• The order included: coffee, tonic water, butter, a piece of on-sale skirt steak, some fancy ham, a frozen Roberta’s pizza for old times’ sake, canned seltzer, some obligatory kale, and a spicy-tuna-avocado roll.
• With wall-to-wall deals, shopping at virtual Whole Foods is somewhat like walking through a deserted casino at 4 a.m. with a stack of $100 bills. There’s no running tab next to the virtual cart atop Prime Now’s page that says how much you’re spending, so if it seems savvy to buy gluten-free cookies from Tate’s — which recently sold to the very un–Whole Foods–y Mondelēz International for $500 million, by the way — for $3.50 a bag, it might be, but it’s not unlikely that next thing you know, there will be three packages of fancy ham for $7.99 a pop in the cart. It’s impulse shopping on steroids.
• Buying fish on the internet will never not be weird. Because of its commitment to various certifications with multiple environmental organizations, Whole Foods seems like a decent place to buy clams online. Its pages for “local” and “wild” steamers were confusing, however, and a line had to be drawn. Never let anyone pick out your clams for you.
• Corporate synergy between Amazon and Whole Foods often comes across as a baroque and megalithic empire of data mining. So even the process of taking groceries out of the cart and putting them back feels like it might trigger some algorithm that results in an email, two hours later, with the subject line, “Hey, are you still interested in those sustainable fish heads (99 cents a pound) you were looking at earlier?”
• Counterpoint: Whole Foods delivers beer, cold and of the craft kind, and pretzels are on sale.
• First, a text arrives: “Your Prime Now shopper has started working on your order. We’ll let you know if there are any changes!” At 10:34 a.m., the earliest option for delivery was between 12 and 1 p.m., at a charge of $4.99. Tip, which is customizable, figures into the bill.
• Next, a minute later, a dialog box opens on the screen. “Hi, I’ve started working on your order. I’ll let you know if there are any changes. Thanks!”
• Skirt steak, on sale at half-off its regular price, was sold out. Makhalia had a solution. “We are currently out of beef skirt steak, would you like to substitute for anything else? Perhaps beef flank steak?” she asked. This was a nice touch. (Thank you, Makhalia.) Unfortunately, her message went unread for 20 minutes, which possibly held up the order.
• As it stands, and with the exception of the concierge above, the protocol isn’t too dissimilar from Whole Foods’ existing delivery program and its 2 to 4 delivery window, but which will no doubt go extinct, like the chain’s loyalty program.
• Most saliently, it turns out that the “expected to be delivered within an hour” line making the rounds in today’s news stories is not the same as the official Whole Foods statement, which reads, in part, that groceries “are available for delivery in as little as an hour.” Select alcohol is also available for delivery.
• The doorbell rang at 1:10, somewhat late.
• Like meal kits, grocery delivery hinges on the fact that the person on the other end of your order will select unblemished fruit, non-gnarly potatoes, or non-mushy salmon. That’s not always the case. At Whole Foods, where groceries generally cost more, the service should be better and more specialized. In this case, the kale was as pristine as kale can be.
• The spicy-tuna-avocado roll — the true, universal metric of any restaurant or grocery-store delivery — was delivered in an insulated, “temperature controlled” bag tucked inside a paper bag, and was in fact 40 degrees, according to the meat thermometer. That’s impressive on an 83-degree day.
• On the whole, the process of ordering Amazon–delivered Whole Foods groceries took a little more time than expected, and it was easy to spend more than originally intended. In those ways, it was actually just like shopping at a physical Whole Foods store.
This post has been updated with new information.