SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon is introducing free, two-hour delivery from Whole Foods stores to its Prime members in neighborhoods of Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas and Virginia Beach, Va. beginning Thursday.
Amazon Prime customers in those cities will be able to order fresh produce, meat, seafood, flowers and most, but not all, items that their local Whole Foods stores stock, said Stephenie Landry, vice president of Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and Amazon Restaurants.
“We might not have every last item that could be available in your local store but we’re going to have the vast majority of them,” she said.
Prime members in those cities can to go their accounts on the Amazon website or via its Prime Now app, which features two-hour delivery items, and type in their ZIP code to see if the service is available where they live.
The announcement is the latest in Amazon's integration of the Whole Foods Market chain of high end organic supermarkets, which it bought in June for $13.7 billion. The purchase instantly made it the fifth-largest grocery retailer in the country, according to analysts at Cowen. Walmart is No. 1, followed by Kroger, Costco and Albertsons.
Amazon lowered prices on some items at the 457 Whole Foods stores in the United States after the deal closed. Whole Food's 365 Everyday Value brand items are now the No. 2 best-selling private label brand on Amazon, according to e-commerce analysis firm One Click Retail. It estimates as of January, Amazon had 18% of online grocery sales in the United States.
The four-city roll out is not quite on the scale of Amazon's massive logistics systems. Unlike regular Amazon orders, filled by Amazon employees at enormous, purpose-built Amazon fulfillment centers, the Whole Foods orders will be filled by pickers who will actually go down the aisles of nearby Whole Food stores.
“They will pick the items, put them in appropriate packaging to maintain the chill chain and pack them,” said Landry.
Those pickers will not necessarily be Whole Foods staffers. “We will use a variety of methods,” was all Landry would say.
The orders will then be handed off to Amazon Flex delivery drivers. These are Uber-like contract drivers who sign on for individual Amazon delivery shifts using their own cars but Amazon’s routing app. They deliver items for Amazon, Prime Now, grocery delivery service AmazonFresh, Amazon Restaurants and now Whole Foods.
The service will only be available during the hours the Whole Foods stores are open, generally 8:00 am to 10:00 pm.
Amazon plans to offer the service more broadly in the future.
“We’re going to have a huge expansion ahead,” said Landry.