[RETHINK Retail] — In an ideal world, online shopping would be the perfect resolution to the kind of theft that occurs in brick-and-mortar stores. After all, according to Money.com, shoplifting and employee theft resulted in $48.9 billion in expenses in 2016.
But if robot cashiers were to decrease employee theft and home delivery deterred brick-and-mortar theft, would retail theft become a thing of the past? Not necessarily. Thieves just move closer to home—literally. Research firm Edelman Intelligence (via NBC) estimates that 23 million Americans have had at least one holiday package stolen from their homes since 2014. And more than 1.7 million packages disappear daily due to theft (or logistics). But most of these stolen packages were purposely taken from porches while residents were at work.
So in a world where consumers are far more likely to choose convenient online shopping versus in-store shopping—excluding clothes and groceries—what can online retailers do to change the rising theft problem? Here are a few suggestions.
Finding the Amazon alternative to mail theft
Scheduling online packages to be delivered to a work address is the obvious answer. It also makes sense for entrepreneurs who own the facilities that they work in. However, for workers who are employed by larger corporate companies, sending personal packages to a business address may be against company policy. (It’s also extra work for receptionists and mail clerks, who are often assigned to sift through and deliver business mail.)
Apartment and condo dwellers who are concerned about package theft within their own buildings, and employees who aren’t authorized to have personal packages sent to their jobs, may choose to use hubs instead. In more than 900 cities across the United States, Amazon customers can choose convenience stores, grocery stores and malls instead of their own apartment buildings for Amazon Locker package drop-offs. Instead of online shoppers racing home, they can instead visit these self-service kiosks during various store hours. And some self-service kiosks are located outside and can be accessed on nights and weekends.
Even online returns are becoming easier. Online shoppers can drop most products off into these same lockers, Kohl’s department stores and UPS drop-off locations.
But what about online shoppers who insist on not making the extra stop to a self-service kiosk or drop-off location to pick up their packages? In major cities such as Washington D.C. and Denver, 15 percent of packages don’t even get to the door. In New York, that mail theft number shot up to 20 percent. And online retailers are often at the mercy of their customers, hoping that this person is being honest about missing packages. Or, they risk losing a customer altogether should a refund or replacement agreement be ignored.
Could delivery timeline pressure be instigating mail theft?
Mail theft has made it less convenient for online shoppers to pay for an actual convenience—at-home delivery. However, there are a few instances that make it far too simple for mail thieves to get ahold of unauthorized packages.
For example, delivery representatives may drop off packages without ever ringing doorbells or waiting for the recipient to come to the door. Tracking notifications and GPS notification systems provide a general idea for customers to know when to be on the lookout, but physically receiving the package can be a game of cat-and-mouse. If online retailers are not emphasizing that their delivery drivers follow special instructions to ring doorbells, knock on doors, double-check mailing addresses for multi-unit condos or apartments, or even leaving packages in gated areas, then packages can sit unattended to passersby for too long. The customer then blames the delivery person if the package comes up missing. The delivery person can blame a thief and the company loses money and inventory.
But with the rise in popularity of speedy delivery, are delivery drivers feeling more pressured to move to their next destination as quickly as possible? Potentially.
Cargo bike delivery lightens the pressure when it comes to deliveries. They can only hold so many packages at a time. They are also more cost-effective for a company than delivery trucks. However, eco-friendly cargo bikes can only carry up to 40 packages while a truck can hold up to 400. If companies want to be able to deliver items to their customers on time, quantity too often overrules quality. That leaves delivery truck drivers trying to make a massive amount of daily deliveries within a certain timeframe and ditching the customer service part of the drop-off transaction.
While the shipment decision is still largely up to the customer, both the company and the customer can help each other. Online shoppers who know they live in high-crime mail theft areas may want to make more use of Hub centers and self-service kiosk machines. Delivery representatives should actively follow special instructions and attempt to deliver packages physically to customers, if noted on the packages. And online retailers may want to pay more attention to customer complaints regarding delivery people who don’t follow those special instructions. If all three work together, those online deliveries may be more likely to reach the recipient safely and securely. And mail thieves will be forced to leave empty-handed.