Will porch pirates ruin Christmas?

Discussion
Photo: @kayp via Twenty20
Dec 17, 2018
Tom Ryan

Move over Grinch, the porch pirates are back.

Many municipal police departments have reported a continued rise in the theft of packages from doorsteps and apartment building lobbies over the last few years as online selling expands. Incidents ramp up as holiday packages arrive.

Unfortunately, according to reports, most thieves are not caught because prevention methods fall short:

  • Locked boxes are available but not all households have space for them and many rushed package deliverers don’t bother to use them.
  • Surveillance cameras with motion detectors can catch thieves in the act, but police can’t always get an image of a license plate and face time constraints for the generally petty offenses.
  • Amazon Key, which lets delivery personnel drop off packages in houses through a smart lock, reportedly isn’t being widely used because of concerns over strangers coming into households.
  • Another smart-lock option from Amazon that allows delivery personnel to leave  packages in customers’ car trunks is only available on limited car models and requires the car be parked nearby.
  • In apartment buildings, thieves can often find their way around locked doors.
  • Amazon, UPS and FedEx all have storage lockers at stores, banks and other locations, but that method works against online’s promise of convenient home delivery.
  • Consumers can have packages sent to their workplaces, but some don’t allow it, and the customers still have to carry packages home.

Online sellers generally provide immediate refunds and send the stolen order again, but that’s a buyer inconvenience. Households may be disincentivized from better securing safe delivery in the future.

Some police departments are putting out bait packages with GPS trackers and sharing surveillance cameras videos on social media to catch thieves and raise awareness. Neighbors are even forming vigilante-like groups to catch thieves.

USA Today reports that some individuals living in high-crime areas are no longer ordering online. According to an analysis by Shorr based on Google searches and population, the highest package theft rates are San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Oakland, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which solutions make the most and least sense in battling household package theft? Will theft become enough of a nuisance to inhibit the growth of online retailing?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"While certainly annoying, porch pirates won’t stunt e-commerce growth."
"In the long run, I believe consumers are smarter than thieves and that our communities will create better solutions for delivery locations and drop sites..."
"Amazon needs to put together a special bundled offer for Prime members — a Nest camera and a lawn sign that clearly informs porch pirates that they are on camera!"

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31 Comments on "Will porch pirates ruin Christmas?"


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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This is a problem we have created, and our deteriorating culture has perpetuated. Two additional solutions missing from the list above are: stop ordering online and go to the stores, and move to a remote rural location where foot traffic is non-existent and the probability of someone stealing your packages is extremely low. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Bob, Do I detect a tongue-in-cheek with your additional solutions?

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

One tongue in each cheek! If it was about respect for other people’s property, this would not be problem looking for a solution. Alas, such is not the case and a few are always looking to scam the many, and so we have a problem that does not have a simple solution. We either accept it as is, or spend thousands on personal CCTV systems to maybe try to catch the culprits. There was a time when I would leave my car keys in the car. There was also a time when cars didn’t have keys….

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Unfortunately, with every bit of good, there is always a bit of bad. We will never get away from crime whether it be scammers or in this case thieves who take advantage of packages sitting on people’s doorsteps. The good news is that security measures will continue to get better but as they do most likely thieves will still find ways around them. However, the percentage of theft remains small, and as technology, services, and security improve it will always remain a low number. I would expect package insurance to the be the next best thing because businesses can’t afford to absorb the losses long-term and customers will stop ordering online once they get robbed and they find themselves out the money. Indeed, for larger orders, spending a few extra dollars on insurance knowing that you have coverage in case of theft is an excellent comfort.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

The best solutions are outdoor cameras in the right place to catch the thief and their license plate number. The cost of these services and the advancement in equipment has created giant leaps. They also have an alarm feature which can be triggered remotely to scare away would-be thieves.

There are enough solutions available that the convenience and benefit of online shopping far outweigh the chances of having your package stolen. Also, there is so much awareness of the theft that neighbors are becoming more vigilant as well.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

Amazon needs to put together a special bundled offer for Prime members — a Nest camera and a lawn sign that clearly informs porch pirates that they are on camera!

Casey Golden
Guest

They offer a shipping method named “Amazon Day” which lets you select a day of the week when all of your packages can be delivered. That is a handy option.

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Step one is awareness. It’s good that porch piracy is now an understood form of theft, and that it’s real. Retail needs to keep looking for a solution that works. Others I have seen include a new venture by Purolator called Mobile Quick-Stop. It’s perfect for the crowded downtown residential cores. The truck goes to these centers at designated times, and residents come down from condos and apartments to pick up their packages.

Another creative solution for the same city centers are pickup centers (Penguin Pickup is an example). Small locations in densely populated areas. They are both convenience store and pickup point for many retailers. The key is being near the condos/apartments, and being clean and secure.

Online is too big a trend for this to throw it off. Yes, porch piracy will continue to be an issue. It will push more creative options like pickup lockers, and simple in-store pickup services, even more. But there is little chance this will derail online retail.

Min-Jee Hwang
BrainTrust

There will always be crime, and criminals tend to find a way despite new security measures. That’s why instances of package theft aren’t likely to lead to widespread changes in buyer behavior. Instead, I expect more changes to be made on the retailer side in the form of insurance, theft policies, and more.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

Honestly, I think porch pirates’ days are numbered. More and more people are installing home security systems like Ring and Nest. As a result, these pirates are being captured on video and their pictures are spread across Facebook. There’s not much more that retailers can do from a security standpoint – customers have made it abundantly clear that Amazon Ring is too intrusive. To protect packages customers should deliver to work when they can, request a signature, have them delivered to a friend or family’s house or utilize a locker service. While certainly annoying, porch pirates won’t stunt e-commerce growth.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Well, it’s been great for Ring and other home surveillance services but it is a serious, and growing, problem. I suspect this isn’t going to stop people from shopping online and I also suspect we are going to eventually see some serious injury or possibly loss of life as people try to “bait” porch thieves onto their property and then “make a statement” through violence. The idea of having things delivered to the FedEx Office or UPS is the safest solution and the day may come when people are willing to trade off a bit of convenience for security and guaranteed delivery. Of course, there is a another scam no doubt brewing out there — people ordering a high-end item, receiving it, and reporting it stolen to e-tailers providing refunds and/or second shipments. Watch for it, because that will change things quickly.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Stopping porch pirates is no easy task. I think it will require a combination of the solutions Tom highlighted in his article rather than just one solution. While I am definitely skeptical that granting delivery personnel access to cars and homes will reach the mainstream, I do think a combination of lockers, workplace deliveries and doorbell cameras will likely minimize the problem. Also, don’t underestimate the deterrent effect of doorbell cameras — while actual apprehension rates of those caught on camera may be slow, the mere presence of the camera, I believe, is a strong deterrent to many an opportunistic porch pirate.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
4 months 5 days ago

With the increasing rates of online orders, secure delivery options will rise to the top of the convenience ladder even if that means giving Amazon or some other trusted party access to your car trunk, home or simply passing by a local physical store or outlet to pick up your package.

The last-mile dilemma will increasingly turn on security as well as speed and integrity of the package. It requires more creativity from the brand/retailer and new sets of accepted behaviors by consumers as both redefine the cost and meaning of convenience.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

Those who have had items stolen or are in areas with a high likelihood of theft may order things to be delivered to the store or other secure location rather than not order online. Sellers and delivery companies are likely to continue working for solutions and customers are likely to continue finding solutions to disincentivize, stop, or catch thieves. Shopping from home or on the go allows the customer to find an item, have it secured in their name, and delivered quickly. Where and how the delivery occurs may change as other solutions are created and tried.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

It all starts with awareness and prevention. There are mechanisms in place to prevent porch pirates, however, with the rise of e-commerce, there has been an increase in these perpetrators. Theft may be a nuisance, but it will not stop or stunt the growth of online shopping. For the apartment or homeowners they have preventative measures in place, which enable you to catch the porch pirates in the act.

Amazon lockers, as well as the BOPIS retail capabilities, are yet another strategy to mitigate these crimes. However, once we see the law coming down hard on these criminals, we should expect to see a reduction of porch pirates.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I hate to say it, but I don’t think it will ever be solved. In my neighborhood we have all agreed to watch and pick up our neighbors’ packages if they are not at home. Everyone emails or texts each other when they see a package drop. Not the perfect solution, but we have had zero instances of theft.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

I ordered probably 90 percent of our holiday gifts online this year and while we have been lucky to avoid any stolen packages, it has certainly been top of mind, forcing me to text neighbors to grab items when I am away and even stopping home at lunch to secure morning deliveries — which changes the whole online purchase experience. Some type of home security device is certainly in our future, even just as a deterrent. Thieves generally act quickly and look for no-strings-attached marks, but no one is calling them the brightest crayons in the box, so even visible security doesn’t guarantee package safety. Cameras are a Band-Aid, not a permanent fix for e-commerce.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I was thinking about this just the other day as I watched a neighbor’s porch fill up with boxes. They have a Ring surveillance system but that can only do so much. I walked across the street, left a note, and took their packages home.

Online retailers offer everything from lockers to tracking to emails with photos showing the box on your porch. They are trying on their end, yet consumers still want more. Asking a retailer to replace a stolen package isn’t fair if the item was delivered as promised.

I see this as a law enforcement/ Neighborhood Watch issue. People aren’t likely to give up the convenience of online shopping.

Casey Golden
Guest

The first step, is to eliminate “branded” shipping boxes, no more FARFETCH, Carbon38, and Amazon slathered across the box sitting on my porch in Brooklyn would be helpful. Also, if we could track our packages with any amount of accuracy, we could make sure we were home or if it wandered away from our porch there would be something meaningful to report to the authorities like the “find my phone” app.

The logistics of USPS is ancient and leaving merchandise sitting on a porch is not a secure way for a federal organization to leave delivered mail. Perhaps every home should have larger “package” boxes that match the key to the mailboxes? I would be curious to know what the post-ship, pre-receive shrink rate is for companies to validate an investment for this timeframe. It’s an interesting quandary; just last week, a neighbor was sitting on the porch with an umbrella in the rain waiting for a package that was being delivered after it was stolen three times. Not very convenient.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Sorry, if you absolutely want it in time and in your hands, a brick-and-mortar store is still the solution.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

There has always been theft of packages from door steps since day one. As e-commerce has increased so has theft. There are some great deterrents available for both law enforcement and the public that have already been mentioned. I don’t see this as any hindrance to further growth for e-commerce.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

We’ve fought mailbox theft for nearly three decades and it continues unabated. There’s no reason to think porch piracy will go away easily.

The “neighborhood” lockbox approach seems to be the right answer. Consumers will accept “we deliver it close to you” as a trade off to ensure “you get what you paid for, when you expected it.”

But also, Amazon et. al. need to start charging for these costs. I’ll once again note that they lose money on retail-like sales by trying to be a premium service at a discount price.

In our neighborhood these boxes are outside Plaid Pantry convenience stores, inside the neighborhood grocery, etc. Put them in convenient places and it’ll be worth the investment (I assume — I haven’t run the numbers). Immediately, though, that raises a problem for online retailers who don’t have that infrastructure. And it seems likely to drive more businesses to rely on Amazon who IS building the infrastructure. It’s also an opportunity for Mail Boxes Etc., UPS stores, FedEx stores, etc.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

There are solutions available today and tomorrow there will be better and less costly solutions. If someone doesn’t want to buy in to those solutions, shame on them.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Motion-activated cameras and signs alerting potential thieves that you have surveillance cameras are the best precautions for deterring theft of packages from home doorsteps. However, nothing will stop relentless thieves.

If consumers are in a high crime area, they may opt for BOPIS if they have transportation and a store that is reasonably close. While doorstep theft is and issue, I don’t think it will stop people from ordering online, as it is so convenient and consumers are now hooked on it.

Jennifer McDermott
Guest

Thieves will forever be a problem, sadly, and especially around the holidays when they’re aware the likelihood for loot is increased. While cameras may help with claims, I don’t believe they do much in the way of prevention and certainly don’t solve the inconvenience of having to seek out a refund and/or replace goods. The only way to order online with as much certainty as possible is to send the goods somewhere they will be received in hand (doorman, receptionist at work or by a neighbor). It might also be time for Amazon to introduce time blocks for delivery so consumers can plan arrivals around times they will be home.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

E-commerce won’t slow because of porch piracy, but it does continue to add to the reluctance of customers to move to higher value goods that they might buy online. The prevalence of porch piracy is what makes it challenging — almost 31 percent of respondents identified as being a victim in a study by Shorr packaging, and Amazon et. al. have identified that 10 percent to 15 percent of delivered packages can be affected by porch piracy. I’m not sure there is an easy solution — for most retailers it’s part of the cost of doing online business. However, tighter security — maybe tamper-proof packaging, signature delivery or similar — can engage customers without huge inconvenience. That said, few customers are willing to have that $1,500 vase delivered when they’re not home.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Customers need to use common sense. There are a number of options to eliminate theft, and while maybe a bit inconvenient compared to the package just waiting for you when you walk up to your door, far more convenient than having to file a missing package report and hope that a replacement comes before the holiday. Some of the ideas listed are great. The locker, a well-lit porch with video cameras, having packages sent to work instead of to the home (be sure to get permission), and more. These are all good ideas, and while there is effort, it’s minimal compared to dealing with theft.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

The problem seems to be on the increase year over year. One of the problems is it gets nightly news coverage. That gives ideas to the wrong people who go out and do their Christmas shopping on someone’s front porch. On the other side, the nightly news is also letting us know this is a concern. Somehow we have to do more to protect the packages we are waiting to receive. Maybe one answer would be to have deliveries made to a neighbor who will be home; or can be on the look out for the delivery, and take it to their house.

Allison McGuire
BrainTrust

Stolen packages are definitely on the rise, but why is it up to the retailer to replace the package at no charge? I think we are at a point where retailers need to start adding to their Terms & Conditions that once a package is delivered, the retailer is not responsible for theft or damages. This will force consumers to address the issues in whatever way they are comfortable. If that means shipping to an alternate address or buying in-store, then that is their choice. In the long run, I believe consumers are smarter than thieves and that our communities will create better solutions for delivery locations and drop sites that will not seem like an inconvenience to the customer.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think the problem will be solved — to the extent that crime is ever “solved” — with simple measures (delivering to work or a friend, storage lockers and pick-up stations, perhaps for a small fee, tracking devices), but yes there is some nuisance involved and in the end it’s likely that some people, at least for some products, will find online isn’t worth it. But this is a blip, not some trend-change.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

This is a concern, but represents a very small portion of the total e-commerce cost of doing business. The cost is a shared burden between the delivery service and the shipping service, although many logistics companies are now requiring a “release” or secure shipping area to be specified for more expensive packages. Also, “fake” trackable boxes are often mixed in with real packages in locations where this kind of theft continues to represent a growing problem. This often catches the thief and stops this behavior from perpetuating itself. Requiring a signature from the household or a neighbor’s household is a very strong way of solving this issue.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"While certainly annoying, porch pirates won’t stunt e-commerce growth."
"In the long run, I believe consumers are smarter than thieves and that our communities will create better solutions for delivery locations and drop sites..."
"Amazon needs to put together a special bundled offer for Prime members — a Nest camera and a lawn sign that clearly informs porch pirates that they are on camera!"

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