Amazonâ€™s retail empire was built on taking items from a website listing to a consumerâ€™s front door. A pair of new products now aims to drop those boxes safely inside the home, a major test of how much people trust the online retail giant.Â
The company Wednesday introduced Amazon Key, a program for Amazon Prime members that, when linked to a smart door lock, grants entry to delivery people or other authorized folks.Â The service, paired with a new Amazon-built security camera called Cloud Cam, records deliveries, beaming live or recorded video to a smartphone app.Â
The bundle aims to eliminate the issue of packages being stolen from a doorstep and follows a similar delivery experiment that Amazon rival Wal-Mart announced last month.
Itâ€™s also the latest example of Amazonâ€™s tactic of stitching together its services in a way thatâ€™s convenient for customers, and, ideally, makes people more likely to try other Amazon products. The companyâ€™s Alexa voice-activated speaker, for instance, can tell jokes and read the news, but itâ€™s also geared toward getting people to place orders on Amazonâ€™s retail site, or stream music through paid Amazon services.
Similarly, Amazon Key could create an incentive to browse Amazonâ€™s marketplace of home service providers, some of whom, Amazon says, in the coming months will be able toÂ seamlessly gain entry to the home when the resident isnâ€™t there. Cloud Cam users are encouraged to enter Alexaâ€™s world, too, with the capability to display live footage on Amazon Echo Show devices using voice commands. And the in-home delivery concept requires a $99-a-year Prime subscription.
Bundles that include Cloud Cam and a compatible smart lock start at $250. Amazon Key will launch in 37 cities and surrounding areas, including Seattle and the Eastside, starting Nov. 8.
Once the kit is installed, customers can select an in-home delivery option at checkout. Amazon will send a notification when a package is about to be delivered, giving customers the options to cancel in-home delivery and ask for the package to be left outside, to watch the in-home delivery take place live, or to view a recording later.
The program is a test of consumersâ€™ trust in Amazon and the contractors the company will direct to deliver packages. On Twitter after Wednesdayâ€™s announcement, skeptics were out in force, worrying about lost pets,Â stolen items, and strangers who could access their homes.
â€œI think people are going to have a really hard time getting over this idea of just randomly letting someone inside your house,â€ said Ben Bajarin, a principal analyst with technology researcher Creative Strategies. â€œBut if anybody is willing to do that, itâ€™s Amazon customers, and specifically Amazon Prime customers who order a lot of stuff.â€Â
The new service doesnâ€™t give Amazon personnel blanket permission to unlock the front door, the company says. Visits have to be paired with specific orders.
The company says Amazon Key generates a one-time authorization signal that, after Amazon verifies the driver is at the right place at the appointed time, unlocks a door for a few minutes.
Amazon says Keyâ€™s delivery workers will be employed by companies that contract with Amazon Logistics, rather than the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or UPS, which deliver the bulk of Amazonâ€™s products. (The contracting program is also separate from Amazon Flex, the program for independent drivers who deliver packages in their spare time)
The programâ€™s contractors, Amazon says, are required to conduct background checks for their employees.
Besides granting similar home access to cleaners, dog walkers and other service providers plugged into Amazonâ€™s home services marketplace down the road, people can program the Key system to allow inÂ selected friends and family as well.
Charlie Tritschler, an Amazon vice president whose team oversaw the development of the Cloud Cam, said the company had built security and privacy measures into the system.
â€œAmazon is typically in the top three companies that people trust,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ve worked very hard to protect that.â€
Tritschler said the program began when an Amazon transportation team working on improving â€œliterally that last footâ€ of delivery targeted in-home access. A camera was a necessity, they found.
â€œWhat we heard from [early testers] was that they really wanted to feel secure,â€ he said.
Hardware teams got involved, developing the Cloud CamÂ to bundle with the service. Eventually, someone had the idea to market and sell the device as a separate product.
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Sold separately, Cloud Cam costs $120 and includes storage of the most recent 24 hours of clips. Paid subscriptions open the option to review the past week or month of clips and link more cameras together. Those plans range from $7 a month to $20 a month.
The camera features two-way audio, giving viewers the option to talk to people on the other end of the video connection, or, say, yell at a dog to get off the couch. It also comes with night-vision and motion-sensing capability that can trigger smartphone alerts when activity is detected.
Videos captured by Amazonâ€™s camera are encrypted when they are transmitted and stored in Amazon Web Services servers. They are deleted at regular intervals specified by the user (people can also manually delete videos).
Customer videos will be used to train Amazonâ€™s algorithms to better recognize the difference between people, animals and shadows for motion alerts, but only if the customer opts in, Tritschler said.