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Amazon Instant Pickup lets you grab an order in two minutes

Five pickup spots are available starting Tuesday, with more expected in the coming months.

Here's Amazon@Penn, one of the company's 22 campus pickup locations. The University of Pennsylvania spot is not among Amazon's first five Instant Pickup locations, but the company expects to add more sites in the coming months.
Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

It's kind of like a store, if the store was a self-service locker and you needed to use an app to buy something.

Amazon on Tuesday launched Instant Pickup, a new program for its Prime members that lets people order from hundreds of items including snacks, cold drinks, personal care items and (obviously) Amazon devices -- and then pick them up within two minutes from staffed pickup sites with self-service lockers. It's not as intuitive as just grabbing items from a store shelf, though. Customers must place their order through the Amazon app then pick it up from a locker.

The company is operating five Instant Pickup locations starting Tuesday in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Berkeley, California, College Park, Maryland, and Columbus, Ohio. 

All five locations are existing college pickup spots that Amazon's already built for deliveries to campuses. Those locations have small warehouses built behind the lockers, which open from the front and the back, so Amazon likely added permanent inventory to these sites to create Instant Pickup.

 "It'll begin as 'snacks and phone chargers,' then who knows what's next, maybe prescription medication," said Cooper Smith, head of Amazon research at market researcher L2. "Amazon could really target the Walgreens and Rite Aids of the world with this."

The new program could be a smart way for Amazon to use existing staff and space to sell more goods and help it compete more effectively against nearby convenience stores and drug stores, which until Tuesday could still get customers their must-have items much faster than an Amazon delivery.

Amazon has been narrowing this gap for years, offering one-day and same-day shipping in some areas, as well as the two-hour Prime Now delivery program in more than 30 cities. It's also testing out drones in the UK for deliveries in 30 minutes or less.

Traditional retailers so far have been struggling to keep up with Amazon's quick shipments, with many falling on hard times as more customers buy more items online. Since more than 90 percent of US retail is still done in physical locations, Amazon has been expanding its brick-and-mortar presence, too, with bookstores, mall kiosks and its planned $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods.

Additional Instant Pickup spots will be rolled out in future months, Amazon said, mentioning its 22 pickup locations already built on or near college campuses nationwide. All Amazon customers can already ship their orders to one of these pickup locations.

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