NEW YORK — Amazon is tired of ringing doors.
The online shopping giant is pushing landlords across the country — sometimes with financial incentives — to give its drivers the ability to unlock building doors themselves with a mobile device.
The service, called Key for Business, is presented as a means of reducing the number of stolen parcels by facilitating their deposit in the halls and not outside. Amazon benefits from this because it allows delivery people to make their rounds more quickly. And fewer stolen packages reduce costs and could give Amazon an edge over competitors.
Those who have installed the device say it reduces the constant buzz of delivery people and is a safer alternative to handing out codes to dozens of parcel carriers.
But the Amazon program, first announced in 2018, could raise security and privacy concerns as it gains traction. The company said it does background checks on delivery people and they can only unlock the doors when they have a package in hand to scan. But tenants may not know that Amazon drivers have access to the front doors of their building, because Amazon leaves it to the building to notify them.
Ashkan Soltani, a privacy researcher who was a senior technology adviser to former President Barack Obama, said any internet-connected device could be hacked, including Amazon’s, and bad actors could try to unlock doors. .
“You’re essentially introducing a foreign internet-connected device into an otherwise internal network,” said Soltani, who was also a former chief technologist at the US Federal Trade Commission.
Amazon did not respond to questions about the potential hack.
The company has already installed the device in thousands of apartment buildings across the United States, but declined to give a specific number. He sometimes leaves a clue by placing a round sticker with the Amazon smiley logo on the buzzers where the device has been installed. On a street in New York, the sticker was on three of 11 buildings. In another neighborhood, two of the seven buildings bore the sticker.
Amazon salespeople have fanned out in cities across the country knocking on doors, making cold calls or approaching building managers on the street to urge them to install the device. The company has even partnered with local locksmiths to force it on building managers while they repair locks. Amazon installs the device for free and sometimes offers a $100 Amazon gift card to anyone who lets them in.
Soltani said he heard about Key for Business when he was approached by two Amazon sellers in April who wanted access to the building where he lives in Oakland, California. The building management refused and no device was installed.
Amazon had better luck with Kenton Girard. Chicago landlord Girard agreed to have the device installed in four of his apartment buildings to reduce package theft, which was becoming so serious that he was considering building a package drop box outside.
“I would have paid to do it,” Girard said of the Amazon device.
Currently, only the US Postal Service has a way to enter apartment buildings in order to access mailboxes. UPS says it tested a way for its employees to enter buildings without buzzing tenants, by partnering with a smart lock company in 2018. But that test ended and UPS declined to say why. The company says customers can instead have their packages delivered to nearby grocery stores, dry cleaners or florists if they’re not home.
FedEx declined to comment for this story.
Amazon has wanted to walk through people’s doors for years. In 2017, it launched a way for shoppers to let delivery people into their homes when they’re not there and leave packages in the lobby. Walmart followed soon after, but its delivery people also stocked the fridge with groceries. Amazon and Walmart don’t say how many people use the services, but both recently expanded them to more cities.
In 2018, Amazon set its sights on apartment buildings, launching Key for Business and recruiting large landlords to install the device in their developments. But the push appears to have accelerated over the past year, with Amazon rolling out sellers across the country. Recent job postings in Miami and San Antonio indicate that Amazon salespeople can earn between $3,000 and $11,000 a month in bonuses and commissions. Amazon won’t say how much it spends on the effort.
Not all Amazon packages can fit through front doors. The company self-delivers around 60% of its own packages, according to shopping data firm Rakuten Intelligence; the rest goes through other delivery companies that can’t let themselves in.
Philip T. Evers, professor of logistics at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, said Amazon’s desire to install the device in as many buildings as possible could be a way to keep competitors away.
“The owner can say, ‘You know, I’ll do this for one business, but maybe we don’t want that for every delivery business that’s out there,'” he said. He added that Amazon could find other uses for the service, such as having delivery people pick up returns left in the lobby instead of getting shoppers to go to the post office. Amazon declined to share future plans.
Jason Goldberg, director of business strategy at marketing firm Publicis Communications, said the device could save Amazon money because workers can drop off more packages during a shift and may have to give away fewer refunds to those whose parcels have been stolen.
He heard about the program in December, when a locksmith replacing the bell system in his Chicago condo building offered to install Amazon Key for Business for free. Goldberg, who helps run the building, then allowed Amazon sellers — waving a $100 Amazon gift card — to install the device.
“They give it away for free because it benefits Amazon more than us,” Goldberg said.