August Access, an in-home delivery service first tested with Walmart, opens to all retailers

August Home, the smart lock startup that was acquired by lock giant Assa Abloy in October last year, is stepping up its delivery game. At CES today, the company announced a service it’s calling August Access, where retailers can work with August and its partner Deliv to open your front door and bring packages directly into your home when you are not there, if you use a smart lock from August, Emtek or Yale (two other Assa Abloy brands).

The service — launching first in the US — is getting a new branding today, and a new platform open for business, but it is not completely new: it’s an extension of a service August first announced with Walmart in September, just weeks before its acquisition.

August Access may sound familiar for another reason: it was the name of August’s partner platform that it launched back in 2015 when it first started to play around with the idea of trusted providers that might be allowed into your home without you answering the door.

It seems that the deal with Walmart and August’s own acquisition have created a catalyst for the idea, though. “We have been working on this for some time with a variety of retailers and testing it,” said Jason Johnson, the co-founder and CEO of August, in an interview. “It’s now coming along very fast.”

The advantage of partnering with Deliv is that it will give August a potential funnel of partners that it can pitch to expand the kinds of delivery services it is already using Deliv to fulfil. The UPS-backed startup says it has a footprint roughly the size of Amazon Prime Now’s next-day service, works with some 4,000 retailers that cover not just big retailers like Best Buy and Macy’s, but also online businesses like BloomThat and Plated.

“Through this unique partnership, we are bringing a bit of magic to the shopping experience,” said Daphne Carmeli, CEO of Deliv, in a statement. “Deliv provides the last mile fulfilment solution for a broad retailer network across the country while August Home supplies the technology to take the final step into the home for a totally seamless experience, start to finish.”

August says that August Access will appear as another delivery option in cases where a merchant is participating in the program, and those who have the required smart lock on their doors can select it. When they do, August generates a one-time passcode for the Deliv courier. When the courier rings the customer’s doorbell, a notification gets sent to the August app, and if you are not physically there to let the courier in, the code gets used to drop off the package.

Johnson admitted that he gets a lot of questions about the trust issue involved with this service: are people really ready to allow others they don’t know into their house to drop off parcels when they are not home?

While August has been running its trials with Walmart, it’s also been carrying out some market research to see how people in general feel about the idea. The results are not a resounding “YES!”, but they’re not completely discouraging, either.

“We now have data that tells us that about one-third of Americans, when presented with this, are more or less strong in their reaction to say no,” he said. “But it’s not, ‘Absolutely not, I’ll never do this’. Some may not be open to it and that’s fine, but we found that one-third [of respondents] are excited about it. Maybe they have had packages stolen or are already giving access to dog walkers or others and are comfortable with the idea.”

Interestingly, Johnson believes that the proportion who are more wary could potentially be won over because of a gradual shift we’ve seen not just in more smart home gadgetry adoption, but in a bigger take-up of other services in the sharing economy. “We have to prove to them that this works,” he said. “Think about other things we share now that we wouldn’t have before, think about Airbnb. You need validation from friends.”

And for those who need more than a good word, August is also offering a camera feature to watch the delivery live or play it back later.

The Amazon elephant

One other reason why retailers might be keen to try this out, and users might start demanding such a service, is because the giant retailing elephant in the room.

Amazon has also been rolling out an in-home delivery option, by way of two new products in its connected home strategy, a home camera service called Cloud Cam and Key, Amazon’s smart lock initiative. The idea here is that Amazon delivery people can use the two in tandem in cases where a customer has opted for in-home delivery, both to access your home and to record the event to give you peace of mind.

Amazon’s service was announced just a week after August was acquired by Assa Abloy, and a month after its trial with Walmart began. But although they may all compete, there may be opportunities for collaboration, too.

“We applaud what Amazon is doing, and we think the Key program is pretty cool if you want to buy 100% of what you want from Amazon,” Johnson said with his tongue in his cheek only a little. “But we believe people like choice and flexibility. So we want to provide our system in an open way that could potentially also include Amazon, if you are comfortable giving Amazon access.”

Indeed the Deliv relationship is key to August Access today, but it’s not exclusive and potentially leaves many regions (including the rest of the world outside the US) untouched, leaving the door open for more partnerships.

“August maintains a relationship with Amazon as well, and we hope to share news on us working on delivery as well with them,” Johnson said.