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Asda distributes lockable delivery boxes

Asda is installing secure "delivery crates" in customers' homes as part of an experiment so that food can be delivered when customers aren't home.

In Yorkshire, Wales and the south of the U.K., two sizes of boxes are being tested, installed near shoppers' homes and holding up to four or six baskets of groceries.

"As all lockdown in the country wanes, the boxes provide trial shoppers with a convenient way to deliver their regular purchases while they're away from home," Simon Gregg, vice president of online products at Asda, told The Grocer.

When an item is dropped off, the driver enters a code on the box that allows him to access it and make the delivery. He then closes the box, which remains secure until the customer returns home.

The boxes are being installed free of charge by Asda as part of a 12-week "little test and learn" for a small group of customers who will provide feedback to the supermarket. "We plan to expand the program this year," an Asda spokeswoman told The Grocer.

While shoppers don't have to be present for delivery, they are encouraged to remove refrigerated and frozen foods within four hours of delivery.

"The four-hour period is not affected by warm or cold weather. We use insulation materials to keep frozen and refrigerated foods stored in the box at the correct temperature," the spokeswoman explained.

The scheme - which is in its early stages - was spotted in an update on Asda's shipping terms by Brian Roberts, a retail analyst for Shopfloor Insights.

"This could be a good solution in the long run when people start going back to work in the offices, since home delivery has never been as convenient at the moment because many people are at home most of the time. There may be some safety concerns and obvious difficulties with age-restricted items, but the concept does have some merit," Roberts told The Grocer.

"Solutions like this have been hotly debated since the advent of online shopping, and there have been many trials around the world, but so far not much in terms of meaningful widespread adoption," he added.

In late 2019, Asda hinted at a trial in which delivery drivers would directly fill customers' refrigerators even when they weren't home. The concept has been limitedly introduced by Walmart in the U.S. through its Walmart InHome subscription service. Users buy a subsidized smart lock, which is installed for free on their front door or garage door and unlocked by drivers with a one-time code. Delivery employees wear body-worn cameras that broadcast their movements inside the home to the customer's device.

Asda's plan appears to have received no further development, even though the supermarket said to "keep an eye on this space in 2020 to see how we can develop it."

Waitrose has been trying out a similar service since 2018 - While You're Away - but the supermarket said it is "currently closed due to the current situation around Covid-19."

Last week, Amazon expanded its "Key by Amazon In-Garage Grocery Delivery" service to all U.S. cities where Amazon grocery delivery is available, following a limited launch in November. Users need to purchase a device that digitally unlocks the garage where drivers leave their groceries.