Combating porch piracy is no easy feat. It’s a classic game of cat and mouse that requires a collaborative effort between retailers, carriers and consumers to stay one step ahead of the pirates’ tactics and more importantly, reduce the opportunity for theft in the first place.
Porch Piracy has become one of the biggest issues for ecommerce and it does not discriminate. It’s not just detached home doorsteps that are at risk – thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated and brazen in their attacks, targeting office buildings and apartment mailrooms, following delivery trucks and scoping out target neighborhoods to identify easy targets.
Retailers and brands can’t afford to bury their heads in the sand, wait for legacy carriers to solve the problem for them, or rely solely on increasingly expensive package insurance policies as a solution. Tackling porch piracy requires retailers to take ownership of the challenge and make solving it part of their brand differentiation (no customer wants to have to have to make a delivery claim and then wait for a replacement product to ship).There is no simple single action to take, but collectively these technology-enabled tactics can have a huge impact on increasing the a successful physical handover, reducing the time the package is exposed to danger on the doorstep, and ensuring a delivery is “out of sight – out of mind” from potential pirates:
- Mandate a required signature for high risk items / zip codes. For high value items (typically >$250) being delivered to zip codes with higher porch piracy risk, brands should consider mandating a signature on delivery. Although these fees are expensive (UPS and FedEx both charge $4.50), the ROI could be worth it. Costs may be cheaper than shipping out replacement products or investing in package insurance with high value limits.
- Communicate an accurate delivery time on the day of delivery. Unlike food deliveries where the consumer is almost guaranteed to be (hungry) at home awaiting the drop off, parcel deliveries are a completely different beast. While providing a delivery date estimate during the checkout experience is great for conversion rates and provides the shopper certainty on which day to expect their order, they don’t help ensure the customer will be at home. However, if the customer receives a delivery update to their phone via SMS or push notification once the package is out for last mile delivery, complete with an estimated delivery window (ideally no greater than 20 minutes), it enables the customer to plan their day to ensure they or someone else will be at home, or to arrange for a neighbor or friend to keep an eye out for the delivery and pick it up.
- Enable the consumer to provide delivery instructions. Possibly one of the biggest enablers of driving up successful delivery rates and combating porch piracy is allowing the consumer to provide specific shipping instructions for the delivery driver, e.g.: “please leave my order under the green box at the side of the house” or “please leave at my neighbors house (4582 Willow St)”. Unfortunately, very few retailers put a “delivery instructions”’ field in their checkout (there is a debate that extra fields like this in the checkout harm conversion rates). While incorporating a delivery instructions field in the checkout is certainly a good practice, putting it in the carrier’s tracking tool (or even better, in your own branded tracking tool) is an even better one. Reminding the customer that their package has shipped and encouraging them to provide any special delivery instructions is a great idea – and it should be encouraged at any point in the purchase process, from when the order is placed right through to minutes before the delivery arrives.
- Send a real-time POD (Proof of Delivery) photo. Some carriers are gradually rolling out POD capabilities across their networks and mandating in their driver apps that the driver capture a “proof of delivery” photo. Unfortunately this feature is far from commonplace. When available, most carriers and retailers use the photo as a means of leverage against consumers making “I never received my order” claims. What retailers are missing is that they should send a MMS or push notification to the customer’s mobile in real time as the photo is taken, making the consumer aware that the package has been left on their doorstep and encouraging them (or a neighbor / friend) to pick it up ASAP. This simple tactic drives immediate awareness to the customer that their online order could be in harm’s way, while also providing a great means of backup for when the driver “forgot” to ring the doorbell or when the homeowner is at home but doesn’t hear the doorbell, or when the package is left in an apartment lobby mailroom.
- Send a “Your package is arriving” alert. A great best practice is to send an SMS or push notification to the consumer’s phone a couple of minutes prior to the driver arriving. This requires that the carrier supports a geo-fencing event capability, giving them the ability to alert the consumer of the imminent arrival of their package which provides an incentive for them to go out to the porch or come down the driveway to meet the driver and physically collect their package.
- Allow tips for “white glove” delivery. Drivers are measured on how quickly they complete their delivery round, thus there is often little incentive to ring the doorbell or take the package up to the 27th floor. For the driver, dumping the package on the doorstep or in a pile of other packages in the apartment lobby is simply the quickest way to get their job done. DoorDash and Macy’s however have a different view; they allow a customer to provide delivery instructions, as well as tip the driver up front when placing a same-day delivery on Macy’s website. The logic (unproven at this point) is that a Dasher who knows upfront that they have received a tip is more likely to provide a white glove delivery service – i.e.: ring the doorbell and wait for an answer, take the package up the elevator, or follow the “leave at my back door” delivery instructions. While tipping for an ecommerce delivery is a new concept, it makes perfect sense given America’s tipping culture and the fact that tipping for food delivery is commonplace.
It’s true that very few carriers support the above features today (at Maergo we are working to enable all of them), but this should not be a reason to stymie innovation. Retailers must work closely with their in-house technology teams and put pressure on their carrier partners to support and test out these capabilities.
Beyond the tactics suggested above, there are simple steps brands and retailers can take to advocate preventative measures with their customers. Consider talking about these best practices in your shipment confirmation email and other delivery notification communications:
- Install a connected security camera / doorbell. A doorbell with a camera provides an extra layer of security for a handful of reasons. Not only does it act as a deterrent (especially when combined with physical notices – “you are on video”), cameras provide real-time notifications of activity (allowing a customer to catch the thief in the act) and also provides evidence to share with authorities in the unfortunate scenario where porch piracy has occurred.
- Consider picking up from a store or locker if you won’t be home. If a consumer knows they won’t be home on the day the delivery is estimated to occur, they should be encouraged to choose an alternative delivery option such as picking it up at a store, locker box or other convenient location (if the retailer offers these options).
There are other technologies that have been touted as solutions to solve porch piracy, but while great concepts on paper, these have proven hard to scale:
- Amazon Key. Launched in 2017, Amazon Key was heralded as the silver bullet to kill porch piracy. Amazon delivery drivers could be granted permission to unlock a consumer’s front door to leave packages securely inside the house. The technology was great, but there were three substantial problems.
- It required the consumer to fit an Amazon Key compatible smart lock to their front door (typically a $300+ investment)
- Few consumers were comfortable with the idea of letting a gig-economy delivery driver into their home while they were out
- It was a walled garden, Amazon only solution. UPS, Fedex and other carriers were never invited to the party.
Key is not dead however – it has evolved into Amazon Key In-Garage. Through a partnership with the Chamberlain Group (the US market leader in garage door openers), homeowners with a wifi-enabled MyQ door opener can now allow Amazon (Walmart and others have also partnered) to open the garage door as a secure location to drop off packages. This is a much stronger proposition as it allows the homeowner to restrict access to only the garage, although it doesn’t solve the problem for the millions of Americans that live in apartment buildings, townhomes or semi-detached homes without a garage.
- Connected Lockboxes. Many vendors such as HomeValet have created secure, connected lock boxes that allow both grocery and ecommerce parcels to be securely fitted to a consumer’s porch. However these are niche solutions that also face insurmountable challenges to mass adoption.
- They’re very expensive as they contain lots of tech (wifi, cameras, etc.), and in some cases are temperature controlled (even more expensive)
- They require professional installation (i.e.: bolted into the concrete of your doorstep or chained to a secure post) to prevent the boxes themselves being stolen
- They need a 110v power source and battery backup
- They require an API integration with each and every carrier service to enable delivery drivers to securely open them (incredibly difficult to scale given the diversity and fragmentation of carriers in the US).
- Delivery Time Slots. While common for grocery delivery, enabling a consumer to pick a 2-hour delivery time slot at the time they place an order is incredibly hard and requires almost a complete re-think on how last mile deliveries are planned, sorted and routed. In the US virtually no carriers offer this and it’s unlikely we will see such services anytime soon, not at least without large associated accessorial fees that would have to be passed onto the consumer at checkout.
Even with all preventative action, porch piracy isn’t going away. Federal law already states that the theft of mail and packages delivered by the US Postal Service is a felony. But up until recently, private carriers have been left without protection. The Porch Pirates Act of 2022 was recently introduced to Congress and there are more than ten U.S. states that have introduced or passed porch piracy laws.
With some investment from retailers, carriers, consumers and the US Government, porch piracy can be tackled, one delivery at a time.