Technology

Amazon expands free same-day delivery in greater Sacramento

Amazon.com worker Rejinaldo Rosales retrieves items from pods that are carried to him by robots at Amazon’s warehouse in Tracy in November 2014.
Amazon.com worker Rejinaldo Rosales retrieves items from pods that are carried to him by robots at Amazon’s warehouse in Tracy in November 2014. AP

Coffee filters and pistachios? Yes. Diapers and horse blankets? Yes. Refrigerators? Sorry.

Amazon.com dramatically expanded its mega-quick delivery service in the Sacramento area Wednesday, offering free same-day shipping on more than 1 million of its most popular items. The service, known as Prime Free, is available to Amazon Prime members who place orders that exceed $35.

In all, the e-commerce giant expanded the Prime Free service to Sacramento, Fresno, Stockton and eight other U.S. markets. The program is now available in a total of 27 markets, including the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Prime Free is a significant upgrade on Prime Now, which came to Sacramento last October. That service offers Prime members same-day delivery on several thousand items, but only if orders are placed through dedicated Apple or Android mobile-device apps. Delivery is free for two-hour deliveries, but one-hour deliveries cost $7.99.

Prime Free expands the program to those using desktop computers. It provides free shipping on orders that exceed $35. Orders placed in the morning will arrive by 9 p.m., while orders placed in the afternoon or evening will arrive the next day. Both programs are only available to members of Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime service.

The new service also broadens the array of products eligible for free same-day delivery. Scot Wingo, an e-commerce consultant in North Carolina, said the company is focusing on grocery products and other frequently ordered items that can be easily shipped from Amazon’s nearby distribution centers. Northern California is served by warehouses in Tracy and Patterson.

“They’ve learned the buying habits of folks in the Sacramento area,” said Wingo, the head of e-commerce consultant ChannelAdvisor Corp. “That’s what they’ll put in that Tracy fulfillment center.”

That means tea bags and ground coffee are in, but refrigerators and oversized TV sets aren’t eligible. Diapers and baby wipes get the rush treatment, but purchasers of china cabinets, mattresses and most major household appliances will have to be more patient.

Amazon’s fast-delivery programs were made possible by compromises the company struck with Gov. Jerry Brown and elected officials in several other states in recent years.

For years, Amazon went out of its way to avoid collecting sales tax from its customers, taking advantage of an old U.S. Supreme Court case that exempted out-of-state retailers that didn’t maintain a physical presence in the state where the customer lived.

In 2011, Brown signed a bill that said an e-commerce company’s in-state “affiliates” represented a physical presence, effectively requiring Amazon to start collecting sales tax in California. Affiliates are online nonprofits and businesses that earn commissions by referring their Internet visitors to Amazon and other web retailers.

Amazon fought back, firing its affiliates and launching a ballot referendum to get the law repealed.

The dispute was settled a few months later. California agreed to a one-year delay on the tax. Amazon pledged to build a string of warehouses up and down the state. Similar agreements were made in other states.

Besides resolving the tax war, the agreement figured into Amazon’s strategy of blanketing the country by bringing its warehouses close to major markets. A total of five have been built in California: Tracy, Patterson, Redlands, San Bernardino and Moreno Valley.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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