Are smart homes smart enough to foil package thieves?

Photo: Comcast
Dec 18, 2017
Tom Ryan

With e-commerce’s rapid expansion, so grow the number of incidents of packages being stolen from consumers’ doorsteps.

According to a survey from Comcast, three in ten Americans who live in houses or townhomes have been victims of package theft. And 53 percent know someone who has had a package stolen from outside their home.

The survey was released timed to the launch of Comcast’s Xfinity Home 24/7 video recording service. The camera is controlled by artificial intelligence to record movement so that a home owner can view suspicious activity outside their home through an app.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed felt smart home security cameras would be an effective deterrent to would-be thieves. Still, Daniel Herscovici, SVP and GM of Xfinity Home, admitted in a statement, “There is no silver bullet solution for the package theft problem.”

A study last year from August Home, a provider of smart locks and home access products, found that the majority of packages are stolen during the day when homeowners are out (74 percent) and that theft victims spend close to $200 to replace each stolen package.

About one in four (28 percent) commented that it would be ideal if delivery services could leave packages directly inside their home. If their homes had smart locks and doorbell cameras, the respondents were much more open to seeing a delivery person inside their home (50 percent overall homeowners; 70 percent package theft victims). They were equally interested in speaking to the delivery person during an in-house drop off and remotely locking the door afterwards.

Smart mailboxes represent a third IoT option for protecting packages. Smart mailboxes are storage units that secure the delivery of packages while also protecting them from the elements. Couriers unlock the box by scanning the package tracking barcode via an embedded scanner.

Beyond IoT, packages can be tracked nearly in real-time in many cases and rerouted or rescheduled to help ensure someone is available to accept a package. In the August Home survey, many package theft victims had stayed home (49 percent) when expecting deliveries.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see smart cameras, smart locks or smart mailboxes providing the best deterrent to the theft of packages on doorsteps? Are stolen packages a major pain point for e-commerce and is there much retailers can do about it?

"I’d do a security camera or two way before ever giving delivery services access to the inside of my home!"
"Smart locks give me pause. Keeping your network and connectivity secure is an ongoing challenge."
"Smart cameras/locks/mailboxes help deter theft, but it’s still an e-commerce pain point."

Join the Discussion!

22 Comments on "Are smart homes smart enough to foil package thieves?"

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Mark Ryski

Yes and yes, smart cameras/locks/mailboxes help deter theft, but it’s still an e-commerce pain point. Of the systems described, smart cameras appear to be most effective not only as a deterrent, but also as a mechanism for actually catching the perpetrator. Frankly, I enjoy seeing the news coverage of a porch pirate caught red-handed on a surveillance camera. While the issue of theft is annoying and inconvenient, it’s merely part of the online world in which we live.

Paula Rosenblum

I really like my smart camera. I haven’t had a package stolen, but I believe someone was preparing to break into my house on Halloween at around 10:30 p.m. I was away and the house sitter was in bed.

They came to the door and pretended to ring the bell (which was on the other side of the door) … looked in the window, and then the lead guy went and got his two friends. They looked up, saw the camera, and walked quickly away.

The best.

Charles Dimov

Smart locks or smart mailboxes seem like good deterrents. Smart cameras are definitely a good idea, but easily foiled (by criminals wearing a hoodie and covering their face).

It seems like yet another good reason for omnichannel retailing practices. In-store pickup, in-store pickup lockers, postal outlet pickups or partner firm BOPIS arrangements will give both the retailer and consumer the greatest peace of mind for this holiday season.

Ryan Mathews

Smart cameras, smart locks and/or smart mailboxes are all significant tools for deterring certain kinds of theft, specifically amateur, or opportunistic, theft. But I’m not so sure how effective they are at slowing down organized packaged theft where the thief takes pains to conceal his or her identity, has a confederate whose car stays well out of camera range and who knows enough to dump the packaging as quickly as possible in order to lose any chips. That said, something is better than nothing. And yes, stolen packages are a major pain point and there isn’t much senders can do other than locate a tracking chip somewhere on the product itself and vigorously prosecute offenders. Is theft enough to slow down commerce? I doubt it.

Kiri Masters

Yes, stolen packages are a major pain point for e-commerce.
Merchants and brands spend untold amounts on replacing items, not just the consumer, because of customer-centric retailers like Amazon which will refund almost any transaction at the drop of a hat.

I agree the smart cameras and locks are a great deterrent and, as another BrainTrust expert commented, perhaps even for “regular” burglaries.

But I’m going to be more excited about secure delivery chutes that can be installed in buildings for drone delivery.

James Tenser

Secure rooftop delivery boxes? Love the concept! But please don’t drop my new flat-screen down a chute.

A possibly relevant anecdote: Shortly after launching VStoreNews in 1998 I met a sharp entrepreneur from the dry cleaning business who devised a home locker for pick-up and drop-off. Like an airlock with inner and outer doors, it could be installed in an exterior wall, and opened by authorized delivery personnel.

Despite some promising tests, the idea never really flew. Perhaps the concept is worth revisiting, with the addition of a smart lock on the exterior door. NFC technology might even enable unattended delivery “signatures.” Vastly increased delivery frequency and concerns about theft may make this arrangement economically viable today. I’ve got a spot in my garage that would be perfect …

Cathy Hotka

We’re too early in package delivery to see best practices yet, but simple deterrence might be the best approach. An obvious camera at the doorway might persuade criminals to try the next house instead. Twenty years from now, these early attempts at smart locks will seem primitive.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Given the growing avalanche of making on-time deliveries to homes, courier services need secure delivery locations as much as consumers. They can not afford second trips when stressed to the max in making peak deliveries for the holidays.

Smart cameras by nature are good at recording and primarily useful after the crime has been committed. While they may assist in catching the thief, they are not a major deterrent.

While 28 percent indicated that they would be open to delivery inside their home, that option opens up other security issues. Expect that smart homes and apartments will increasingly include smart mailboxes and lockable delivery compartments. Courier services might even be wise to offer secure lock compartments as a part of their differentiated service to high volume customers.

Max Goldberg

As long as valuable items are sitting unattended, they will be a target for thieves. Amazon, Walmart and other retailers are trying to cut down on theft. Smart home devices, local lock boxes and pickup locations and adjusted delivery times are all being employed. The problem will never go away, but all of these efforts can better protect packages — a win for consumers and retailers alike.

Ian Percy

After watching those incessant Ring commercials (or any of the other video doorbell devices) I can’t help but wonder why a hammer wouldn’t solve much of the problem from the thief’s perspective. Walk in backwards or wear a mask, give the doorbell a whack and help yourself. The commercials show the home owner having a conversation with the perpetrators explaining to them how well the system works and that they better leave. Really? Spoiler alert: thieves watch TV too … they’ll find a work-around.

As we expand our reliance on deliveries, we’ll move to the equivalent of a doggy door activated by a bar code as the article suggests. Opening your whole house is a questionable solution … when your couch arrives from Mayfair, someone should probably be home.

Art Suriano
Unfortunately, thieves will always find a way and deliveries left at the doorstep are very easy to steal. So yes, cameras, locks and allowing the delivery person access inside the home are all good ideas. It’s up to the customer what they feel comfortable using as protection. One suggestion is to use is a large lock box kept in front of the house for putting in a package. After placing the item inside the box and closing the lid, the lock box remains locked, and you must enter the code before the cover can open. Of course, depending on how big the packages are and how many are being delivered in one day, this has limitations. But we experience new technology every day. I think soon we’ll see the packages themselves having a tracking tag and sensor, so if stolen, police can quickly locate the boxes. This method will benefit both the retailer and the customer. But for now, we’ll have to continue the hope that “my” package doesn’t get stolen and do everything possible… Read more »
Anne Howe

I’d do a security camera or two way before ever giving delivery services access to the inside of my home!

Joy Chen

Stolen packages are similar to theft in brick-and-mortar stores. The pain point is the same. Any of the these smart options (camera, smart locks or mailboxes) would reduce theft, but not solve the problem.

Doug Garnett

Have cameras deterred shoplifting at the store? Not really. The stories I hear from retail associates indicate that the problem is as serious as ever. I even heard one story of passing counterfeit money — and the perpetrator carefully hid their face from the camera.

It’s fascinating to read all this research which is promotional research — designed to sell the goods the company is offering. The Comcast numbers are particularly unbelievable — consumers are smarter than that and we should always remember it.

The best answer to reducing package theft is the one not given here: Lock box pickup locations. The downside for e-commerce, of course, is that this ends up looking a lot like BOPIS or going to the store. But it’s effective.

Adrian Weidmann

Smart locks give me pause. Keeping your network and connectivity secure is an ongoing challenge. These devices and personal networks are simply not yet “plug and play” and as such are susceptible to nefarious activities.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Smart cameras, smart boxes and smart deliveries at the front door can solve the problem for those who like using technology until thieves find a way around them. We may get to the point of choosing between delivery at the door or delivery at another location with permanent lock boxes. The second alternative is not very convenient but permanent lock boxes are less likely to be stolen because they would be larger, heavier and secured (and possibly monitored).

Gene Detroyer

Cameras are a solution for now. But in the end, all homes will be fitted with smart mailboxes. It is an easy solution. It doesn’t add to the delivery process. The technology is available. They will be as common as regular mailboxes.

Ed Rosenbaum

It always seems the bad guys are one step ahead of the good guys. When the good guys catch up; the bad guys find a way to move ahead again. The camera is a deterrent. But what happens after the police arrive? Do they really place a strong effort in catching the perpetrator? My guess is that this, unfortunately, is not high on their “to-do” list. So the answer lies in the good guys continuing to try to find ways to protect their packages and property.

Harley Feldman

Smart locks or smart mailboxes are the safest ways to insure delivery. Smart cameras only allow a recording of the theft event, but determining the thief and catching them are problematic. Stolen packages are a problem that will inhibit sales which is why retailers are working for a solution.

Ken Morris

With the continued growth of home delivery, theft of packages is definitely an issue since 30% of consumers have experienced this problem. There isn’t a silver bullet, “best” approach to this problem. The best solution is to offer customers several options so they can choose the best approach for their comfort level.

Allowing delivery people access to consumers’ homes will probably be one of the least selected options, but some people will like it. Smart cameras and locked storage boxes at homes are good ideas, as the security cameras have multiple uses and with the frequency of home package deliveries, a secure storage box could be a valuable approach.

Craig Sundstrom

The Comcast Survey numbers seem off: either the “victim” number is too high, or the “knows someone” number is too low (or maybe people only know 1-2 people? Let’s not go there).

But back to the topic. Of the three, only the camera idea is really a “deterrent,” i.e. something that hopefully discourages theft. The other two seem more like alternate delivery systems that are foolproof — at least as far as package theft is concerned — but have their own complications, expense and inconvenience. The smart lock idea seems to be the big loser in the poll, perhaps because people feel about it as I do; while it (might) sound great in theory, letting someone in your home unescorted is a recipe for problems … for all parties concerned.

Jett McCandless

Smart locks, especially with the systems that companies like Amazon are implementing where they have access to your lock and can place packages in your home, have more potential than anything. Cameras are a deterrent, however thieves will steal something if they really want to. Stolen packages are an issue, but I don’t think they’re a major pain point right now. The important thing to remember, however, is that building the best possible customer experience is what’s really going to separate the winners from the losers, and the best anti-theft measures are going to be a factor in all of that.

"I’d do a security camera or two way before ever giving delivery services access to the inside of my home!"
"Smart locks give me pause. Keeping your network and connectivity secure is an ongoing challenge."
"Smart cameras/locks/mailboxes help deter theft, but it’s still an e-commerce pain point."

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