Jeff Bezos' elves were busy.
On Thursday morning, just three days before Christmas, a crew of Amazon employees darted around the company's warehouse on the fifth floor of a Midtown Manhattan office building.
They roamed the narrow aisles to fill brown paper bags with new orders of toiletries, Amazon devices and canned foods. Workers then brought carts filled with these bags to the front of the 50,000-square-foot space to deliver them by bike, van or subway in as little as an hour.
The location powers Amazon's Prime Now speedy delivery service in New York City, where Amazon's Prime customers can order tens of thousands of items online and get them to their doors in just two hours for no additional shipping costs. (One-hour shipping is $8.) Amazon has been growing Prime Now to convince people to shop online even for stuff they need right away, and to extend holiday shopping so even superprocrastinators can order gifts late into Christmas Eve that will arrive in time for Christmas.
"This is using all the technology we've built to optimize fast delivery and taking it to a new level," Stephenie Landry, vice president of Prime Now, said at the warehouse on Thursday. "It is an expensive service to provide, but...when we find something customers really love, we can usually find a way to get them the product in the way that they want it."
Since Prime Now launched at the Manhattan warehouse in late 2014, the service has expanded to 40 cities in seven countries, though most are in the US. Prime Now also grew to offer restaurant deliveries and partnered with local shops to offer more selection, including fresh pasta from Eataly and seafood from Gourmet Garage in New York City.
"We use machine learning to see what customers are buying in the individual cities," Landry said, "and also the trending data on Amazon.com to predict what might be popular. And as soon as we see it, we bring it in."
Thanks to that data, each city's Prime Now warehouse has slightly different inventory, owing to what's most popular in each location. That's due in part to spacing constraints, since these urban warehouses are tiny compared to Amazon's main fulfillment centers stocked with millions of items.
For instance, top sellers in Manhattan include bottled water, bananas and gummy bears. The Seattle location stocks a lot of vegan pizza snacks and Portland, Oregon's best seller is organic baby carrots.
For the last stretch of the holiday season, Landry said, people have been buying essentials like milk and eggs, gift wrapping and some last-minute gifts, such as Amazon's Echo Dot speakers and Star Wars toys.
Amazon is already developing another service to ship items even faster, using drones to deliver stuff in about 30 minutes. That concept is still in early testing and it's hard to say whether it will ever reach the mainstream market.
So, for now, Prime Now is working on being your go-to shopping spot for stocking stuffers and tomato sauce.