Amazon Is Disrupting Delivery Again

Are You Happy Literally Letting Companies Into Your Home?

We’ve all been there. You’ve ordered something online, waited patiently on the allotted day for it to arrive, and then, while you’re visiting the shop to grab a carton of milk, the delivery driver shows up. You come home to a note announcing a failed delivery, telling you to pick up the parcel from a depot. This is all well and good for people who live near to pick up points. However, for people living in rural areas or with a hectic lifestyle, travelling to a depot is an inconvenience. Leaving a delivery with a neighbour makes sense, but not everyone wants to entrust their belongings to acquaintances or strangers. There’s always the option to reschedule deliveries, but this often comes with a charge. So, what’s the solution? Amazon, ever on the lookout to dominate retail, could have the answer.

Stand and deliver
Meet Amazon Key, a remote controlled lock and ‘Cloud Cam’ that lets complete strangers into your home. Seriously. But as odd as having somebody you’ve never met wander into your house might be, Amazon believes that it will become a core part of the shopping experience. The company has been working on the system for a year, completing trials and assessing results. They’re characteristically confident – in fact, Peter Larsden, Amazon’s VP of Delivery Technology expects this delivery method to happen ‘from now on’. Generally speaking, the concept is very straightforward. If a driver turns up with a parcel and the recipient is not in, they can activate an ‘unlock’ button through a mobile app. The recipient can then issue a temporary code to allow entrance once Amazon has checked that the address, location, delivery driver and parcel barcode all match up. The Cloud Cam records the delivery and streams it to the customer. This way, both Amazon and the customer knows exactly who has been in the house and when.

Transforming the way that deliveries are made is an integral part of Amazon’s long term strategy. In 2015 they launched Prime, gradually shortening delivery times from two days to two hours. Then they began to build lockers in supermarkets, and experiment with courier drones. Now, they want to be invited into consumers’ homes, and they’re not being coy about it. Amazon Key became available to Prime members this week at $249.99. Although they’re the first big ecommerce retailer to offer this kind of service, fellow retail leader Walmart announced similar plans in September. In partnership with August Home, the grocery giant wants to place consumers’ groceries straight into their fridges. But how is this going to disrupt existing courier services and consumer habits?

How disruptive are in-house deliveries?
Amazon Key and similar services will change the meaning of home deliveries, and that’s a fact. It’s likely that this premium delivery method will initially be available for high value or fragile products. Other items will gradually be added, making it possible to order pretty much anything online. This is all about getting closer to the consumer, and widening the scope of what people purchase online. In many ways, this will benefit ecommerce companies. Customers who had previously avoided buying certain things online may feel more inclined to do so, consequently accelerating the ecommerce industry. On the other hand, there are serious privacy issues and potential risks. It would be quite possible for criminals to take advantage of the ‘unlock’ window, putting delivery staff and the houses they enter at considerable risk. A hacker could infiltrate your emails, find out when an item was expected to arrive and lay in wait. This, of course, is an extreme scenario – but there’s a social angle here, too. Given the difficulties and costs of buying property, more people are turning to short term lets. One of the ways that these fluid communities interact is by taking responsibility for a neighbour’s missed delivery. By removing the need for obliging neighbours, these communities are less likely to mingle. The service would essentially replace human relationships with brands, and, from a business perspective, it’s pure genius. As well as collecting more data about consumer habits, preferences, and what colour scheme their hallway is, Amazon Key could be the precursor to a venture into home security. Watch out, Nest.

Moving into consumer’s homes (ssh, Alexa can hear you) is something that Amazon is clearly very keen on. It’s not something that everyone is going to be happy about, but Amazon Key does have a place in the lives of busy professionals, rural inhabitants, and in areas where your neighbour might think twice about dutifully handing over your delivery. For some people, the delivery dilemma is a very real problem. By offering a solution, Amazon, Walmart, and a long list of copycats will encourage ecommerce, push their own sales and alter the language of courier services. Ultimately, Amazon are setting an incredibly high standard for the future of delivery services, and facing backlash over privacy is a risk they are willing to take.

Is there a ‘delivery dilemma’? Which other types of customer could benefit from an in-house delivery service like Amazon Key? Can these services offer the security needed to be accepted by consumers? Share your thoughts and experiences.