Amazon has opened up its AmazonFresh Pickup stores to customers, expanding a test concept from employees only to Seattle shoppers. It’s an indication that Amazon is getting closer to selling groceries online.

The retailer has two grocery pickup locations in Seattle, but until last week had only allowed company employees to place orders as it was still a beta test, according to the Seattle Times.

But now, Amazon Prime members can order groceries online and select a time to collect them at one of the dedicated sites.

Amazon has several test stores in the market, including Amazon Go, the highly discussed self-serve convenience stores concept that lets shoppers pick up goods and leave without every using a checkout.

Everything Amazon does is significant, but the grocery store experiment is among its most important. It’s an $800 billion market that cements shopper loyalty and has them coming back frequently. But online grocery has been slow to catch on with less than 10% of consumers using one of the available services.

Amazon needs shoppers to buy groceries from them. It’s a lynchpin category for all retailers and a strength for Amazon’s largest competitor, Walmart. And while Walmart has been making headlines with splashy e-commerce acquisitions like its recent purchases of ModCloth and Moosejaw, the fact that it has been growing market share in grocery at the expense of competitors is much more significant.

Retailers other than Amazon are developing in-store pick up programs to help mitigate some of the barriers. If a shopper can order groceries and pick them up when it’s convenient, there’s no need to schedule delivery or have a safe place to leave the order.

This being Amazon, AmazonFresh boasts some new technology. When shoppers pull up, a scanner reads the license plate to register the order and customer. And this being Amazon, there’s a nice surcharge — $14.99 a month on top of the $99 annual Prime membership fee.

Will AmazonFresh Pickup put Amazon closer to being a top grocery seller? Time will tell, but in this race, every maneuver counts.

Source: Forbes