From the company that brought you the option of letting a courier inside your home comes a new service: package delivery inside your car.
Amazon is expanding its in-home delivery service called Key to include deliveries to trunks and backseats of cars. The service is available only to Amazon Prime members in 37 cities who have a 2015 or newer Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac or Volvo with an active OnStar or Volvo On Call account.
Essentially these are already connected cars that can be remotely unlocked — in this case for package delivery, which Amazon promises within a four-hour window. The shopper has to confirm that they've parked within range of the delivery location — in a publicly accessible area — and can track the progress through the Amazon Key app.
Amazon has devoted much effort to figuring out how to stop its packages from being stolen from porches and public spaces, which is costing the company a pretty penny. With in-car service, Amazon can use shoppers' cars as secure mail drop boxes.
This is also the extension of Amazon's ongoing effort to come up with new ways to lure customers into its universe with convenience and speed. Early on, it was free two-day shipping for people who pay a monthly or yearly Prime subscription. Then came Internet-connected buttons that auto-order a specific item and shopping via voice commands to a smart home device. Now, it's remotely controlled, app-connected locks on houses and cars to let couriers inside.
In February, Amazon bought Ring, a smart-doorbell maker that can stream audio and video a phone, which followed the launch of the company's own Internet-connected home security camera called Cloud Cam. Amazon has pitched the camera and its Amazon Key app for use not just for in-home deliveries, but also keyless entry for a growing number of home-service providers that can be hired through Amazon, such as dog walkers and house cleaners.
Most of the special services appeal to Prime subscribers, a membership service that typically costs $99 a year in the U.S. — one that Amazon is aggressively growing. Last week, for the first time, CEO Jeff Bezos disclosed that the number of Prime subscribers topped 100 million.
General Motors' OnStar and Volvo On Call are also subscription services, which tend to come with some free-of-charge periods but can run up to $350 a year.
NPR's Sonari Glinton contributed to this report.
For years, this has been one of Amazon's biggest secrets: how many people pay for the Prime membership.
A big round number appears to have prompted CEO Jeff Bezos to finally lift the veil: "13 years post-launch, we have exceeded 100 million paid Prime members globally," he wrote in this year's letter to shareholders.
He added that in 2017, more new members joined Prime than in any other year. The membership generally costs $99 a year in the U.S. and lures people in with free two-day shipping and access to video and music streaming. Last year and earlier this year, Amazon added discounted Prime rates for recipients of Medicaid and government assistance programs.
Prime subscribers are known to be more lucrative to Amazon, estimated to spend twice as much money every year than non-members, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Analysts have been projecting the number of Amazon's paid subscribers as around 65 million to 85 million, while the company had historically just referred to "tens of millions."
In a letter to shareholders released in 2016, Bezos wrote: "We want Prime to be such a good value, you'd be irresponsible not to be a member."
Annual letters from Bezos to shareholders are a popular read in the business world. In this year's note, he muses about the value of setting the highest standards ("I believe high standards are teachable"), the art of great memos ("They simply can't be done in a day or two") and the human nature of ever-rising customer expectations ("We didn't ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied").
Wednesday's letter, in running through Amazon's recent milestones, highlights the sheer scope of the company's reach: its massive cloud-server business, smart assistant Alexa and the Alexa-powered home devices, award-winning TV and movie production, streaming deals with cable and TV networks, a recent push into fashion, the launch of a cashierless store in Seattle and the blockbuster $14 billion acquisition of Whole Foods.
Not mentioned were Amazon's relatively nascent push into home security with the purchase of smart-doorbell maker Ring and the company's for-now vague plans in health care, which had spooked the industry. In Wednesday's letter, Bezos said Amazon employs more than 560,000 globally.
Amazon has also dramatically grown the number of small businesses and other third-party sellers who compete alongside Amazon's own retail business on the shopping platform. In the letter, Bezos said 2017 marked the first year when more than half of the goods sold on Amazon worldwide were from third-party sellers.