Amazon can deliver the Christmas tree, but not the holiday memories

Oh Amazon tree, Oh Amazon tree, 

The box you came in was so heavy.

Not exactly the type of holiday memory that makes the heart sing, right?

After ordering a fresh-cut Christmas tree online from Amazon, the jingle running through my mind went more like this:

Oh Amazon tree, Oh Amazon tree

When will you be delivered?

Getting a tree delivered to your doorstep in a cardboard box, via UPS truck, isn’t likely to inspire a new Christmas carol. Will it become a beloved tradition for American families? Probably not.

After Amazon revealed in September that it would be selling fresh-cut Christmas trees online, The Record and NorthJersey.com assigned me to place a tree order to see how well Amazon delivered.

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Amazon, the e-commerce giant determined to demonstrate that it can ship almost anything almost everywhere, proved it can deliver a still-fresh 6-foot Fraser fir for the holiday, but it can’t deliver the memories and intangible mystique associated with a more traditional trip to pick out a Christmas tree.

Amazon offered natural, fresh-cut Christmas trees for the first time this year, in a partnership with the Hallmark greeting card brand, which has licensing agreements with floral delivery companies.

Amazon on Thursday said it has been pleased with the response to the tree offer thus far, but it couldn’t provide any information on how many trees have been ordered, or which parts of the country are placing the most orders. 

The tree arrived in reasonably good condition, even though the box it came in showed some signs of rough handling at its many stops on its journey from North Carolina to North Jersey. The tree was still quite green, the needles were supple – not dry, and the tree had a near-perfect conical shape. 

Want to check out the Amazon fresh-cut Christmas tree in the newsroom of The Record and NorthJersey.com? We’ve set up a livestream so you can check back periodically during the next few weeks to see how the tree is holding up.

Even though Amazon delivers the tree directly to your doorstep, many consumers may find trip to a neighborhood nursery or a holiday tree stand more convenient. The tree arrived packed in a unwieldy box that is much harder to carry into the house than a wrapped tree. 

You also have to saw off about an inch of the trunk to make sure the tree will draw water once in its stand. When you buy a tree at a local nursery or tree stand, the workers there will do that for you, and will also trim the tree and cut off any branches that are too low for your tree stand.

If you venture out to a tree farm to cut your own tree, you don’t have to worry about sawing off that inch, because you already have a recent fresh cut on your trunk. 

Who would want a tree delivered in a box? Perhaps apartment dwellers without a car for lugging home a tree. But those buyers also would be unlikely to have a saw handy for removing the slice off the bottom of the trunk.

The Amazon tree also loses points on price. The 6-foot Fraser fir we ordered cost $117.28, about twice the typical cost if you pick out your cut tree from a nursery or roadside tree vendor, or at retailers like Home Depot. 

Amazon is currently offering Balsam fir and Fraser fir trees, sized six feet to seven feet tall, priced at $109.99, and usually shipped within three to five days (free delivery Dec. 7-12 for Amazon Prime members). Also available: Black Hills Spruce trees six feet to seven feet tall ($99) and sized three feet to four feet tall ($59.99). You can also order matching wreaths and 25-foot garlands.

Amazon’s prices were comparable to the price for a delivered tree from Home Depot. The online delivery price for a 6-foot Fraser fir from Homedepot.com is $106.96, delivery included. Target charges $109.99, plus tax, with free delivery. At the other end of the spectrum, for a 6-and-a-half foot Fraser fir, Hammacher Schlemmer charges $149.95 plus $47.95 for various shipping fees for a total of $197.90, but advertises online that its trees are freshly cut at a tree farm in North Carolina “within a day of shipment.”

Another strike against the Amazon tree was the unpredictability about when it would arrive. I placed the order on Nov. 8, and was told then that the only shipping option, despite my Prime membership, was a delivery window between Nov. 30 and  Dec. 3. I had wanted the tree in time for Thanksgiving and sent a message asking why delivery would take so long, but did not receive a reply. 

Two days before Thanksgiving I got an Amazon text on my phone telling me the tree would be delivered Nov.  27. One day before Thanksgiving Amazon sent a new alert with a new, later delivery date of Dec. 3. 

On Saturday, Nov. 24, out of the blue, I received a text on my phone telling me to expect the tree that day. I arrived home at 4 p.m. to find the 7-foot box containing the tree propped up, blocking my front door.

Not knowing for sure when the tree would arrive made it difficult to have a plan to unbox it and decorate it. When you buy a tree from a local vendor, or cut down your own tree, you do it on a day when the whole family is available to help out, and you can pick a time the most convenient for you. 

With Amazon, I had no control when the tree arrived at my home. Carrying the box is a job for at least two people, and you need a place, preferably outdoors, where you can saw off that bottom slice and stick it in a bucket of water until you are ready to set it in a stand and decorate it.  

`Because of the weekend delivery, the tree stayed in its box, outside my home, for two and a half days until I could bring it to The Record offices for the unboxing.

The first view into the open box was worrisome. Multimedia coordinator Paul Wood, who helped with the unboxing, opened the bottom of the box and held up his cupped hands to show a pile of loose, brown needles that had fallen off the tree in transit. 

But when the full tree had emerged from the box, most of its needles appeared to be intact. The branches were firm and springy and perfect for supporting lights and ornaments.

The tree arrived with two packets of “Tree Life” preservative, and a “Tis the Season” brochure from Hallmark  with suggestions on how to create a “home for the holidays” experience while decorating your tree. The brochure includes a recipe for Sugar Cookie Snowflakes, and tips like “place a Favorite Christmas Memories jar beneath the tree and have loved ones add to it.”

Responses online to Amazon’s tree delivery ranged from enthusiastic to contempt. ‘Good Morning America’ teamed up with tech news site CNET to cover Amazon’s tree advances. After setting up the tree at CNET’s Smart House in San Francisco, smart living editor Sarah Mitroff said she would recommend unboxing and trimming the trunk outside because, “it is a giant mess to do this inside.”

A few customers were upset about delivery delays, but some on Twitter simply said this holiday tradition should not be seded to Amazon. “No, just no,” posted one person who watch the GMA coverage.

Another chimed in that those who buy trees from Amazon “are sooo lame.”

O, Tannenbaum.

 

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