SAN FRANCISCO — No more getting packages stolen. No more worries about being there to receive them. Starting next month, people in 37 U.S. cities can have Amazon drop their package inside their front door, without ever giving anyone a key.
On Nov. 8, Amazon will begin offering a secure-lock service, called Amazon Key, that will give Amazon Logistics delivery personnel permission to unlock a customer's door for 5 minutes. Using the Cloud Cam, a new Amazon device shoppers first buy, the entire delivery will be live-streamed to the customer and also sent as a video snippet.
The service is an effort to thwart one of the problems of Amazon's popular package delivery service — theft — and make it easier for customers to arrange deliveries.
The company has been testing Amazon Key for several months at various sites around the country and thinks it's going to be a game-changer.
"This is not a trial. This is the fundamental way we think customers are going to order and receive their goods," said Peter Larsen, Amazon's vice president for delivery technology.
An Amazon order screen, showing the "in home delivery" option available to customers who have the Amazon Key service. (Photo: Elizabeth Weise)
The new service could represent a shift in how consumers think of Amazon. Not just as the source of packages left on their porch, but as an entity they're comfortable letting into their homes. Available only to Prime customers, it's also another way to knit them more tightly into the Amazon ecosystem.
And it shows Amazon further building out its own delivery network, a move that could siphon off business from UPS, FedEx, and USPS, potentially prompting them to raise rates.
How it works
The company demonstrated the service to reporters at a rental house in San Francisco on Tuesday.
The customer first buys a smart lock and the Cloud Cam camera from Amazon for a starting price of $249. The Cloud Cam is also available for purchase as a stand-alone security camera for $119.99. Both will be available for purchase beginning Wednesday and can be installed by the customer or for free by a professional Amazon technician.
The camera is set up to show the front door from inside the house, allowing the customer to watch on the Amazon Key app to see whoever opens it.
Once signed up for the free program, when customers go to purchase something on Amazon, they will see all items available for Key delivery marked with the designation "In-home delivery."
The day the ordered item is set to arrive, a customer gets a note on her phone, saying an in-home delivery will come that day and a time window during which to expect it.
When the delivery person arrives, the app sends the customer another note saying the delivery person is at the door.
Using a list that appears on the app, the delivery person is first instructed to knock on the door or ring the doorbell.
If no one answers, the delivery person swipes a button in the app that sends a message up to the cloud, which sends a message down to the customer's Amazon-enabled smart lock. This allows the delivery person to swipe a button on the app that unlocks the door.
"Note that the delivery person never touches the lock and doesn't have a key or a code," said Larsen.
The delivery person opens the door "just a crack," puts the package inside the door and then closes the door, he said. The worker then swipes another button on the app that automatically locks the smart lock. He must confirm that the door is closed and locked before leaving.
The code the system sends to the lock is for one time only, and is only valid for five minutes after the delivery person first arrives at the door. Via the app and the lock, the system even knows how close he is to the door and may prompt him to step closer to the door before sending the signal to unlock the door.
After five minutes the door automatically locks itself even if the delivery person hasn't locked it. If there is any problem with the lock or the service, the app instructs him to stay at the doorway and call Amazon customer service to ensure that the door is closed and locked before leaving, said Larsen.
The customer can watch the entire delivery in real time on a phone, via the Cloud Cam that is aimed at the door. He or she is also sent a time-stamped video delivery snippet on the phone to watch it later, as well as a message when the package is delivered and the door re-locked.
Who does the delivery?
Amazon Key deliveries will only come through Amazon Logistics, not via UPS, FedEx or the U.S. Postal System, all of which also deliver Amazon packages.
The Amazon Logistics drivers who will have access to the Amazon Key Service all work for local delivery services that have contracted with Amazon and have been "thoroughly vetted and background-checked," said Larsen. They will not come from Amazon Flex, which allows individuals to sign up to deliver packages in their free time.
Until the moment the door is unlocked, the customer always has the option of hitting a "Block Access" button on the app that immediately changes it to traditional delivery, with the driver ringing the bell and then leaving the package outside the door.
The system can also be set up to grant a one-time access code to friends or family, or give them ongoing access should the user choose to. Customers will also be able to set up access for workers from its Amazon Home Services program, as well as Rover.com, a dog-walking service, and Merry Maids, a house cleaning service.
Who does this make nervous?
In the United States Amazon has already moved deeply into home delivery through its Amazon Logistics contracts with regional delivery networks and its Amazon Flex program, which allows private, independent contract drivers to deliver packages to customers.
Between that and its build out of its internal air shipping program, Amazon Prime Air, the company is increasingly moving into the logistics realm that it once entirely outsourced.
Looking at the cities and areas Amazon Key is rolling out in, John Haber, CEO of Spend Management Experts, an Atlanta-based supply chain management consulting firm, sees this as a move for Amazon to take control of still more of deliveries in dense, high-volume and profitable urban areas.
“UPS and FedEx will not be happy that Amazon is trying to cherry-pick these profitable volumes,” he said.
FedEx said that as a matter of policy it did not comment on customers' business plans. UPS said it planned to watch the new Amazon service.
The two companies, together with the U.S. Postal Service, are in a constant and delicate dance with Amazon because each needs the other to survive.
Amazon can’t deliver all its packages to everyplace in the country. UPS and FedEx need its business and the U.S. Postal Service has become an important part of the Seattle company’s delivery, and profitability strategy, especially on Sundays.
In the end, Haber said he could imagine Amazon’s current delivery partners raising their rates as they find themselves left with delivering ever-less-profitable routes.
Already offered in Sweden
Amazon isn’t the first to launch such an inside-the-front-door delivery system. On an informal basis, UPS customers nationwide have long given keys to drivers they’ve known for years.
And in Sweden, the postal service PostNord began a pilot project in the town of Lerum this spring that gave package delivery staff a one-time-use code to the customer’s smart locks, allowing them to leave the package inside.