Last week, I was sitting in the office, waiting for an Amazon package to be delivered to my house. Typically, the driver would just leave the package at the door, where anybody could steal it. But this time around, the process was a bit different because the driver arrived, used his phone to unlock the car in my driveway, put the package into the trunk and then locked the car again. That's thanks to the latest feature of Amazon Key -- free in-car delivery for Prime members -- which is launching today.
In-car delivery is an extension of the existing Amazon Key service, which allows you to give the delivery drivers access to your house with the help of a compatible keypad on your door and a smart security camera. It's worth pointing out from the outset that Amazon's delivery drivers won't track you down wherever you are and deliver to your car. This is about delivering to your stationary car in your driveway or an office parking lot.
Indeed, the concept behind in-car delivery is very much the same as for the regular Amazon Key service. Just like you can give Amazon access to your house with the Key app, quite a few cars now allow you to open their doors with the help of an app, too. Because of this, support for in-car delivery is a bit limited right now. It's currently only available for GM cars (2015 or newer Chevrolets, Buicks, GMCs and Cadillacs) with an active OnStar subscription and Volvos (also 2015 or newer) with an active Volvo On Call account. Amazon has worked with these partners to enable its drivers to unlock their cars -- assuming, of course, that you allow them to do that.
As Amazon stresses throughout the process, you remain in full control. If you want to block access to your car at any time, you can do so through the app -- and you can do so for a whole day, until a specific time or forever. I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable letting a driver into my house. Giving them access to my car, which doesn't have any valuables in it anyway, feels far less intrusive to me, though that's obviously a very personal thing.
The on-boarding flow is pretty straightforward and the Amazon Key app walks you through the process step by step. To get started, you select your car's make, model and color and then authorize Amazon's access to your car by going through the same kind of process you're probably familiar with from giving a third-party email client access to your inbox. Chances are, you've never done this before, so it feels a bit strange, but it's actually pretty straightforward. After that, you can also select what the driver should do if you're not home (reattempt delivery to your car tomorrow or deliver to your building, for example).
Now, when you order on Amazon, you'll see the option for in-car delivery. Select that and the driver will know what to do. The only limitations here are that the package can't weigh more than 50 pounds, can't exceed 26 x 21 x 16 inches in size and the value can't be more than $1,300. Unsurprisingly, if the items are fulfilled by a third-party seller or require a signature, in-car delivery won't be available either. Your car has to be in a publicly accessible place, too. If it sits in a locked parking garage at work, the driver won't be able to get to it.
In-car delivery is available for same-day, two-day and standard shipping.
You'll get a four-hour delivery window on the delivery day; all you have to do is park your car within two blocks of the delivery address. And that's what I think is the most useful aspect of this: You could easily add your office address as a delivery address, for example, and Amazon will deliver the package right to your car in the office parking lot. Since every compatible car has a GPS receiver, it's easy enough for the driver to find. The Amazon Key app actually has a handy feature that tells you whether your car is within that two-block radius, too.
I've tested the service over the course of the last two weeks (thanks to Amazon partner GM, which delivered a massive Chevy Tahoe to my driveway for a short loan).
Here is what happens when you get an in-car delivery: About 20 minutes before the driver arrives, you'll get a notification on your phone. To find it, my driver used the car's panic feature to have its alarm go off, which surely made my neighbors perk up. He then walked up to the car, verified the license plate and proceeded to open the car from his phone. After putting the package in the trunk, he locked the car again (which didn't quite work from his phone the first time around, so he had to head for the driver's seat and lock it manually). The whole process took maybe a minute.
From the delivery driver's perspective, the procedure is similarly straightforward. When an in-car delivery pops up as part of the delivery schedule, the Amazon app for drivers will locate the car and give the driver directions to it. Then the driver scans the package, swipes to unlock, waits for the car to open, drops off the package and swipes again to lock the car.
The app will keep you posted as the delivery happens and you can always check when the car was unlocked and locked again, too.
To me, this feels like a useful addition to the Amazon Key portfolio. While I'm sure others will disagree, giving the delivery driver access to my car doesn't feel all that weird to me. I'm sure my neighbors were somewhat alarmed when the delivery driver opened my car, but I guess that'll change as more people start using this service.
- This article originally appeared on TechCrunch.