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I tried Amazon@Columbus so you don’t have to. (But you’ll probably want to.)

Gregor Gilliom

Yesterday was the deadline for cities to submit proposals for Amazon HQ2 and the promise of adding new 50,000 jobs to town. Exciting stuff, and as I’ve said before, there are lots of reasons Columbus would be a great choice. We already have a foothold — in addition to the three new massive Amazon data centers in central Ohio, we also have one of the company’s first Instant Pickup stores. There are just six total in the country.

Maybe you’ve seen Pickup offered as a delivery option. Ever wonder what it’s like? I did. So I tried it yesterday. And it worked perfectly.

I’ve written about BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) and related retail strategies for years, so I was primed with high expectations. I ordered a pack of LED lightbulbs Sunday night, and Amazon Prime promised Weds delivery…or I could pick it up at almost any time on Tuesday. I mapped the pick up location and was surprised to see it’s just two miles from my house. Time to experience next-generation fulfillment for myself.

It’s very simple and effective: enter the storefront, press a button in a message from Amazon on your phone, scan the resulting bar code, and access your package from a locker that opens automagically. (If you can describe a complex experience in one sentence, you know they’re doing something right.) A single representative is there to answer questions and assist with returns (it also functions as a drop off). It’s a good thing a helper was on site — the in-store signage was lacking and the pickup message from Amazon wasn’t as descriptive as I thought it might be. But after you do it once there’s no mystery. When I scanned that barcode and the locker popped open, I felt that slight thrill you get when experiencing something both futuristic and immediately obvious.

My only complaint: virtually no parking at this location — it’s on High Street in the heart of campus (I parked at UDF next door and bought a soda so I wouldn’t be towed). I wondered why it isn’t located at the Kingsdale or Olentangy shopping centers, just a mile or so away with much easier access. But then I realized it isn’t for me — it’s for students who can’t risk deliveries in dorms and apartments. Brilliant.

It’s very impressive. Will be interesting to see how many others pop up here and beyond. And as we hear more and more stories about theft of Amazon deliveries in traditional residential areas, this will become a very attractive option for high-value deliveries.

Here are photos of the process. (Fun detail: Note how you can see the warehousing on the other side of the locker.)