Amazon's New Plan for Home Deliveries: Hand Over the Keys

By Laura Stevens Features Dow Jones Newswires

Amazon.com Inc. wants you to open the door to your delivery courier -- even when you aren't home.

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The company on Wednesday introduced a connected door-lock and security-camera system to let package carriers, guests and eventually dog walkers in and out of customers' houses, all controlled via an app.

Dubbed "Amazon Key," the new $249.99 system allows consumers to control and monitor deliveries and other services remotely.

"This is not an experiment for us," said Peter Larsen, vice president of delivery technology at Amazon. "We think this is going to be a fundamental way that customers shop with us for years to come."

Amazon Key plays to the online retail giant's package delivery ambitions, enabling indoor drop-offs to customers as the company handles more of its own shipments. Already the company has added lockers and apartment building package hubs. In-home delivery is a natural next step.

A consequence of the rise in e-commerce is that "theft is certainly a problem," said John Haber, who works with retailers on supply-chain issues as chief executive of consultancy Spend Management Experts. Theft is particularly pronounced during the holiday season, when some thieves dubbed "porch pirates" go from door to door stealing gifts.

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But it remains to be seen whether consumers are ready to open their doors to strangers. Transportation industry experts said that most people are likely to balk at the idea, at least at first.

"People have a difficult time letting cleaning people into their house if they haven't been properly vetted," said Ivan Hofmann, a former FedEx Corp. executive and transportation-industry consultant. Still, he added, that is how innovation works: "You have to try things that no one else has tried and see what works."

In the beginning, the Amazon Key system will allow in-home deliveries only from Amazon Logistics, the company's delivery network. When an Amazon delivery-service provider brings a package to the door, he or she scans the label with a phone before requesting entry to the home. The system unlocks the door automatically -- without a code -- and turns on the security camera as the delivery person opens the door and sets the package down inside. After leaving, the delivery person taps the phone again to relock the door.

The package recipient gets notifications throughout, including a time-stamped log and the possibility to watch a live video of the delivery or a recording afterward. The recipient can also block the ability to enter the home throughout the process.

"We knew that peace of mind was going to be critical here," Mr. Larsen said.

Customers can also use the app to generate codes for guests to enter and will eventually add access for service providers like dog walkers and maids.

The Amazon Key package includes the new Amazon Cloud Cam security camera and a smart-lock made by partner companies. For now, it is only available to Prime members, something the company said helps add value to the $99 annual subscription fee. The service will initially be available in 37 cities starting Nov. 8.

Amazon already has a grip on some connected devices inside the home. It is integrating its artificial-intelligence assistant Alexa into everything from refrigerators to cars to its Echo speakers. But Key is its first system to bridge indoors and outdoors and could make Amazon a competitor to some companies that it partners with, including smart-doorbell maker Ring and smart-door lock maker August Home Inc., which Swedish lock maker Assa Abloy AB signed an agreement to acquire last week.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 25, 2017 07:14 ET (11:14 GMT)