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Why is solving the package theft/porch piracy problem so hard?

Problem: Are you sick of your packages keep getting stolen from your front door or porch?

Problem: Are you sick of tedious and lengthy recovering of your missing packages?

Problem: Are you annoyed with missing your package delivery and then having to drive to a warehouses or pick-up centre to get it?

Problem: Are you frustrated about dealing with endless and fruitless delivery complaints?

You are not alone.

Package theft is at an all-time high. These types of incidents are increasing dramatically, and media attention has amplified awareness and concern of ‘porch pirates.’

7 million packages are stolen or lost every day in the U.S., according to researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — this is higher than it’s ever been before.

One in three Americans report having at least one package stolen a year. Porch piracy results in the loss of $25 million of lost goods and services every day, or around $9 billion a year according to C+R Research.

With 51% of all purchases being conducted online nowadays, and with the holiday season fast approaching, coupled with the ongoing pandemic and economic recession, the package theft problem is only getting worse.

So why is this problem getting worse and why hasn’t it been solved yet?

A growing problem.

There is a lot more “treasure” for these so called “porch pirates” to find than ever before. With many stores closed or operating under new safety protocols people are buying more online during the pandemic. For example Americans spent $153 billion online in April and May 2020, which was 7% more than the 2019 holiday season.

And in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus many delivery companies have stopped requiring signatures, and going contactless, telling their delivery drivers to avoid touching doorknobs, doorbells, and gate handles, which has led to even more exposed packages. In many cases, this has led to drivers placing packages in visible locations such as on sidewalks, instead of within gates, where they are more accessible to thieves.

It’s unknown exactly how many people have been victimized by package theft. Sure there has been many surveys conducted, and there is plenty of data available, but most of the time the theft is not reported to police. Porch theft is considered a larceny, and police generally don’t investigate larcenies unless the value of the goods stolen is more than $900-$1000. Even after a porch theft report, unless there is overwhelming evidence, police say larcenies are hard to evidence. During the pandemic, most porch pirates have their faces covered with masks anyway, so its difficult to identify the thief.

And with porch pirates embarrassingly costing retailers and delivery companies tens of millions a year, you can understand why there is little transparency here. For example according to the aforementioned C + R research study, 42% of Amazon prime customers surveyed said they avoid buying expensive items online due to theft meaning Amazon are missing out on even more sales revenue. Not exactly the news that the shareholders want to hear at Amazon’s AGM.

However, despite limited transparency from the delivery companies, based on Google search data, concerns about package theft has ballooned at a time when many states were under stay-at-home orders.

In May 2020, more people were Googling “stolen package” related keywords than at any non-holiday time since 2004, when Google Trends data was first available. (It’s important to note that we excluded December of every year from our analysis since “stolen package” searches naturally surge during the holidays every year.)

Who does the problem effect?

Not only are the consumers becoming more concerned about the growing problem of porch piracy, retailers have the most to lose with angry customers, increased “Where is my order?” calls (WISMO), and added costs to re-ship new items out to customers.

Retailers can’t afford to leave their customer happiness in the hands of thieves. For online shoppers reporting package theft, the average cost to replace a stolen package is $109 (C+R Research 2020). And the highest cost for retailers? Their customers! 83% of customers will not shop with them again if they experience poor delivery. With 98% of shoppers stating that they base their brand loyalty on the shipping experience, the stakes for retailers are incredibly high.

So with so much at stake for so many, why haven’t we solved this problem yet?

Over the last few years there has certainly been many attempts at solving the porch theft problem. Often news articles make suggestions, especially during the holiday season, on how you can ‘fight back against porch pirates’ and ‘take precautions’. And many local police station blogs offer ideas on ‘how to protect your packages’. But obviously none of the solutions are working. Why?

Below is a list of some of the attempts at trying to solve the porch theft problem, and reasons for why we believe the attempted solution has not worked.

Attempted solution 1. Delivery to post offices/pick-up centres/ partner location / convenience stores etc

This is usually the number one suggestion offered by the retailers, and you can understand why — they save money by not having to send their delivery drivers/postman out on the streets to attempt the delivery in the first place. But the reason why this one has not worked is obvious — this is not actually a “home delivery”. As the name suggests, we order “home delivery” to get packages delivered to our “homes” — yes our homes. We don’t order home delivery to drive out to pick up centres or convenience stores. This is a cop-out from the delivery companies and retailers. It should probably not even be considered a solution, as it doesn’t offer a solution to getting packages delivered safely to our homes.

Attempted solution 2. Delivery lockers/smart lockers/Amazon lockers

See above — not a solution- it’s not really addressing the problems associated with ‘home deliveries’.

Attempted solution 3. Install security Cameras/doorbell cameras

This is only a deterrent. People can still go up and grab the package and get away with it. Here is what a Police Officer from New Jersey said, “The mere presence of a doorbell camera or alarm company window sticker may deter some porch pirates — but not most. “These tend to be crimes of opportunity,” said Officer Young. “An individual will see a package, run up and grab it without forethought. Even if there’s a sign to indicate there’s a camera present, they won’t notice it. And those who do check for a camera often cover their faces with masks or keep their backs to it.”

Attempted solution 4. Schedule delivery for specific times when you will be home.

If only it were that easy. We’ve all been there when we’ve asked for a package to be delivered at a certain time, or we’ve been advised of certain delivery times, and we’ve sat and waited all day, only for the delivery to take place at another time, or the package to left at our door without us knowing. Or perhaps the delivery driver did not ring the doorbell properly, or they had a knocked quietly and we didn’t hear them. Maybe it was raining or snowing, so the delivery driver pulled out of the home delivery at the last second and took the package to a nearby pick-up store. Maybe you had a dog in your yard, or perhaps the neighbours dog spooked the delivery guy.

A lot of the time the delivery companies can’t control the delivery times from the dispatchment centre due to issues like traffic, weather, roadworks, time-limited route scheduling issues. Often there are too many packages to be delivered per run in short amount of time windows allocated and the delivery driver can’t afford to wait around for you to answer their door.

Attempted solution 5. Have packages sent to an alternative address, e.g a neighbour who is always home or have package sent your offices

Again not a solution as we’re talking about home delivery to “your” home — not ‘your office’. And even if your neighbour is always home, you have to hope that none of the issues occur as we described above in solution attempt 4.

Attempted solution 6. Increasing the punishment for the theft

As mentioned earlier, stealing packages from porches/ houses is usually classified as larceny/property theft, and larceny is usually only recorded by most police departments when the theft is over $900-$1000. And its often difficult to prosecute without strong evidence. Basically, the porch pirates pretty much have to be caught in the act. Often the porch pirates have their faces concealed especially with masks which are common nowadays in the pandemic.

Attempted solution 7. Require signature on delivery

You need to have someone home for this. And you need to hope none of the issues happen as described in 4 above. Also as mentioned before, many delivery companies have stopped requiring signatures since COVID-19.

Attempted solution 8. Tracking/tracing apps/websites

This is usually fine, up until the package leaves your local distribution centre. Sometimes these distribution centres can be 1 mile away, sometimes they can be 100 miles away. Alot of the time there is no tracking once it leaves the dispatchment centre. And then of course, you still exposed to all the issues discussed above in attempted solution 4.

Attempted solution 9. Delivery boxes, locked boxes, large mailboxes/drop boxes

Often the boxes are not big enough for all types of package. They can also be expensive (e.g some can cost up to $1000). They might not be weather resistant. They can be difficult to install/assemble. For example do you need to screw the boxes to your concrete entrance path, so the box itself can’t be stolen? Some boxes don’t come with locks, and the idea is to simply ‘hide the package’ from view of the street. But the thieves can walk around corners if they want. Many reports say that thieves often follow or wait for the delivery trucks to arrive, and then they go up and steal the package within a minute or two after it has been left.

The boxes that do have locks are sometimes difficult for the delivery drivers to work out how to open/follow instructions. Is there a combination code? Do you change this code on a regular basis to stop prying thieves eyes? The delivery drivers could sell those codes on the dark web. A lot the boxes can only hold one or two packages at a time (for example if you are away on a business trip for a week, and you have a few packages delivered — what happens then? The boxes may not be clearly marked either, so that the delivery drivers know if it should be used for packages. Do you have signs on your letterbox or in your driveway instructing the delivery driver to proceed to the box? If you don’t have the signage on your property, then you need to provide specific delivery instructions to specific carriers and all their contractors before delivery, and most often on every delivery. And even if you do this, there is no guarantee the delivery driver will understand these instructions. For example they might be already hours behind their schedules due to rain or issues outlined in attempted solution 4, and they have no time to get out and navigate their way through your yard.

Sometimes the lock boxes are not rigid enough, or have cheaps locks, and can be hacked open by vandals. The boxes are also difficult to get to your place to install in the first place. You might need to get a trailor to bring a large boxes home from hardware store. Some delivery companies charge fees to use your dropbox. The porch pirates may also consider this an advertisement that you receive a lot of parcels regularly, and they can force open the lid/jemmy it open and help themselves to your packages. What about if you live in a rental property? Will your landlord give you and the other 50 or so residents in your apartment complex permission to install 50 2 metre cubed metal boxes in your front yard?

Attempted solution 10. Smartlocks, Amazon Key, digital keys deliveries, car deliveries.

Current Wi-Fi/BLE smart lock solutions do not allow for common door lock solutions — especially in apartment buildings (common doors, like apartment doors needs a Wi-Fi connection nearby and someone paying for it, and setting it up, and maintaining it). Multiple doors/locks usually cannot happen on one account too (Wi-Fi locks usually do not allow different locks on different sites (or even on one site) as unique configurations need to happen with local on-site Wi-Fi connections.

Current Wi-Fi locks cannot be installed on new build properties (as a Wi-Fi connection needs to be in place first).

For Amazon key program it only works with Amazon deliveries and not all delivery companies, as the system is integrated with the Amazon PDA issued scanners which are integrated to Amazon computers and servers, required to open the lock. There is a need to accommodate all delivery companies including contractors/smaller delivery companies to facilitate secure delivery inside the home.

Wi-Fi locks have disadvantages like low-security and poor networking capability, and reliability issues.

And then there are all the new pandemic rules. Amazon key has suspended their offering since the pandemic as it still requires the delivery drivers to touch your door handles to open your door. According to CDC/NIH the virus can live on stainless steel surfaces like locks for up to 28 days and transmitted by people touching the infected surfaces. Digital Keys are often limited to a set number of pre-approved family and friends and is often hard to distribute to delivery drivers as a result of the private Wi-Fi connections the smart locks are connected to.

There was also a lot of backlash to Amazon key when it came out a few years ago, with many people complaining that’s its creepy giving a key to Amazon for driver to enter your house.

Will there ever be a solution?

Our company delivers smart locks and digital keys which means you can say goodbye to touching door handles and metal keys . Unlike Wi-Fi locks, our smartlocks connects to the internet with a new communications technology built by the mobile network operators specifically for smart devices called ‘NB-IoT’ (part of the 5G standards). With a SIM card and a 2 year connectivity plan included, Narrowband Smartlock does not require Wi-Fi, wiring or any other onsite equipment or infrastructure. We invite you to explore our product and the technologies we use on our website here as we believe they offer a new innovative solution to solving the problem of package theft.


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