Online giant has ‘key’ to in-home deliveries
Amazon is stepping up its home delivery options — and taking a swing at rival Walmart at the same time.

The online giant introduced Amazon Key, a lock-and-camera service that enables Prime members to receive packages directly inside of their homes — even if they aren’t there. The service will coincide with Prime’s same-day, one-way and two-day shopping options, and it is free for Prime members.

Here’s how it works: Prime members download the company’s Amazon Key app and purchase and install the Amazon Key in-home kit, which is comprised of the company’s Web-based indoor security camera, the Amazon Cloud Cam, and a compatible smart lock. These pieces are integrated using a wireless protocol Zigbee. (The kit will set back Prime members $249.99.)

Once they set-up the new system, customers just select “in-home” when placing their online order. When the delivery driver arrives at the customer’s home, they scan the package barcode, which sends an alert through Amazon’s cloud. The e-retailer uses an encrypted process to verify that the correct driver is at the right address, at the intended time.

Once the information is confirmed, the cloud prompts the camera to begin recording and electronically unlocks the door. Drivers drop the package inside the foyer, leave and the door automatically relocks. No passwords or additional pre-authorizations are required to complete the delivery process.

Using the Amazon Key app, customers can track their in-home delivery with real-time notifications, watch the delivery happen live, or review a video after the delivery is complete, according to a video from Amazon. (By integrating the Amazon Cloud Cam with the Echo Show, Echo Spot, Fire TV and Fire Tablets, users can also ask voice- assistant Alexa to display live camera footage right on the device’s screens, according to Amazon.)

Prime members can pre-order the camera, but the Amazon Key service will launch on Nov. 8 in 37 cities and surrounding areas across the United States. More regions will be added going forward, according to Amazon.

“Amazon Key gives customers peace of mind knowing their orders have been safely delivered to their homes and are waiting for them when they walk through their doors,” said Peter Larsen, VP of delivery technology, Amazon. “Now, Prime members can select in-home delivery and conveniently see their packages being delivered right from their mobile phones.”

Prime members can also use the service to authorize keyless entry to family, friends and other service providers, including delivery companies and professional services. In the coming months, Amazon Key will enable Prime members to schedule access to companies that participate in Amazon Home Services, such as dog walkers and house cleaning services, the company said.

The service takes a direct hit at Walmart, which began testing a similar strategy last month. The discount giant’s concept not only delivers fresh groceries, but also enables a delivery person to enter customers’ homes and put away perishables in their refrigerator. Walmart is partnering with August Home, a smart locks and smart home accessories provider, and same-day delivery company Deliv, to test the service.

While it is still early in the game, industry observers believe the breadth of Amazon's program could give the online giant a bigger head start in the home delivery segment.

"The race for in-home delivery is well underway, but Amazon seems to have the edge over Walmart even right out of the starting gates," said Tushar Patel, chief marketing officer, Kibo.

"Amazon Key is the perfect example of the company¹s focus on long-term thinking. Not only is Amazon making the program available in 37 cities in a matter of weeks, but Prime shoppers can use it for services that extend beyond the retail realm," Patel added. "While it is quite impossible for retailers to compete with Amazon on this level, they can still capitalize on making sure their convenience and personalization strategies are on par."