Who Will And Won’t Be Interested In Amazon Prime Pantry

primeYesterday, Amazon finally unveiled its Prime Pantry service, which allows customers to consolidate as many grocery items as they can into one large box for home delivery. But given Prime Pantry’s selection and long delivery times, is this something that people can actually use? The answer is… maybe.

While Amazon touts that it has “more than 2,000” items available for putting into one’s Prime Pantry box, that’s really not that many when you consider the sheer variety of products available at your typical large supermarket, let alone the seemingly countless number of non-grocery items Amazon sells. This will likely change as the program develops, but for now it feels a bit anemic.

The product offerings appear to be dominated by popular name brands, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it means that most shoppers will at least be familiar with what they are buying, but it also means that many smaller but still popular brands are not available. Customers who are very picky about getting their particular favorite brand of potato chip or shampoo will likely feel frustrated by the hit-or-miss selection.

For example, the variety in the personal care section may be found wanting by shoppers who not only have a certain brand in mind, but also a certain scent or size of package.

Some Pantry sections do have a variety of smaller, apparently independent brands, but there is a definite absence of generic offerings for people who just want “baking soda,” “cola,” or “aluminum foil” and don’t care to pay a premium for a recognizable name on the packaging.

And of course there is the issue of no fresh or frozen food; as those would present a logistical nightmare for storage and shipping in this fashion. So even if you’re fine with the lack of variety in brands on Prime Pantry, you can’t do your week’s grocery shopping there.

So in terms of selection, Prime Pantry is less like going to the supermarket and more like those times when you’re on vacation and you stop by the nearest convenience store to pick up snacks and stuff you forgot to pack.

This is a more complicated issue, as supermarket prices tend to vary greatly from ZIP code to ZIP code, depending on things like population density, area competition, household income, shipping and storage costs, and many other factors. So what might seem like a decent price for one customer may seem like a rip-off to another.

Just for a more apples-to-other-kind-of-apples evaluation, we selected a few random Prime Pantry items and compared their prices to what you’d pay to have them delivered by a popular online grocery delivery service operating in many Mid-Atlantic metro areas.

We compared only items that we could match across both services, but in each instance Prime Pantry cost less — sometimes significantly so.

The 30-oz. jar of mayonnaise was $.30 less expensive on Prime Pantry; a 12-pack of soda goes for $1 less; the price difference was $1.20 on both a 28-oz. bottle of body wash and an 8-oz. bag of chips.

Of course, the delivery service we’re using for comparison also offers a much wider variety of products and brands, including fresh and frozen foods. That service also allows you to schedule two-hour delivery windows on days of your choosing.

Again, your local prices might be better than what we have available for comparison, but this at least shows that while Amazon might currently be offering convenience store selection, it isn’t charging convenience store prices.

Unless you subsist on packaged foods and shampoo, Prime Pantry will not fulfill all your kitchen needs, but there are some people and situations for whom it might be worth considering:

•Urban Dwellers Who Don’t Cook: I’ve met a surprisingly large number of people who live in major cities but who rarely, if ever, cook at home. They eat out, get take-out, or order every meal. But these people also tend to have things like soda, cereal and snacks in their cupboards… and of course they need the usual suspects like toilet paper and soap.

But many densely populated cities lack proper supermarkets, forcing urban dwellers to pay extortionate corner store prices. Having a service that delivers these pantry staples cheaply and efficiently to their doors may be appealing.

•Senders Of Care Packages: Got a kid living off ramen cooked on a hot plate in her college dorm room? Prime Pantry seems tailor-made for the parent or loved one who wants to treat someone to a box full of stuff to someone who could use cookies, deodorant and toothpaste.

•Rural Shoppers Who Want To Save A Trip To The Store: Some rural areas of the country face a similar problem to densely populated urban centers — a lack of readily available quality supermarkets. And sometimes those stores don’t carry items for shoppers with specific dietary needs, like food allergies. A service like Prime Pantry wouldn’t solve all these issues for everyone, but it could be used to supplement trips to the supermarket.

•Consumers Without Cars: For people who don’t drive or don’t have ready access to a vehicle, supermarket shopping can be a huge pain in the read-end, especially for the non-perishable items. Shopping without a car means you often have to sacrifice value for convenience; for example, buying only a single roll of paper towels instead of the 8-pack. Every non-perishable item you can get delivered to your door is one you don’t have to carry home from the store.

•Extreme Couponers: Prime Pantry does offer coupons on some items, but people who are practiced in the coupon martial arts will probably want to stick with their current shopping habits.

•Food Snobs: While there are a handful of smaller brands available on Prime Pantry, most food snobs will turn their noses up at almost every item. This is not the place to pick up items you can brag to your friends about having in your kitchen.

•Anyone Who Needs Things Quickly: Yes, ordering online is incredibly convenient and may be less expensive than going to the store. But if you’re going to run out of dishwashing detergent tomorrow, Prime Pantry isn’t going to help. The delivery estimates on Pantry orders are upwards of 3-4 business days, so it’s not for people with any urgent needs.

•Warehouse Shoppers: Even though Prime Pantry is all about shipping items in bulk to save time and money, it’s not about actually buying in bulk. So if you’re a fan of going to Costco and buying a stack of toilet paper the size of a dog house, or if you looked at the earlier mention of a 30-oz. jar of mayo and went “Is that all?”… then you’re probably best sticking with your local warehouse store.

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