Startups Take On Porch Pirates With Neighborhood Networks

Package Delivery

With consumers turning to eCommerce retailers to order all sorts of valuable merchandise, package theft has become a pervasive problem. According to one estimate, a sizable 30 percent of consumers have reported losing a package to a porch pirate. To tackle this problem, retailers and security firms have taken various approaches from in-home delivery to doorbell security cameras and pickup lockers.

But startups are also turning to more low-tech, community-oriented ways to reduce package theft: Vyllage is gearing up for the launch of a service that allows consumers to have their packages delivered to their neighbors when they are not home. The idea is it might take a village to raise a child, but it could also take one to keep packages safe — and out of the hands of porch pirates. Vyllage Co-founder Laura Borland told the offering is, in a sense, a “neighborhood watch for packages.”

To use the service, consumers will open up the Borland’s app to find neighbors within their ZIP code. Once they select a neighbor, they then pay a small fee by credit card that varies depending on the size of the package. After that point, they receive the full address of the neighbor who can accept their delivery. That person, however, is not identified by name; rather, the customer sees a name that the neighbor has chosen for the location along with a four-letter identifying code for the location that they provide to an eCommerce merchant.

When the package is delivered to the address, the neighbor takes a picture of the tracking label as well as a wide shot of the box to show the condition of the package in which it was delivered. Those two pictures are then sent to customers in a text messages to notify them that their package has, in fact, arrived. Customers do have a 48-hour window in which they can pick up the package. The reason? “This is not storage,” Borland said, adding that she wants to avoid a situation where people order items on Black Friday and decide to pick up their gifts on Christmas Eve.

The Package Delivery Platform

To provide the service, neighbors can sign up through the business side of the app, pay a fee and pass a background check, which they will also have to pass each year they use the service. Borland sees providers on the platform ranging from stay-at-home parents to retirees as well as virtual workers and students. “It’s really just an opportunity for anyone who is home during the day,” Borland said. To promote their homes as pickup locations, neighbors can access tools through the app that allow them to place signs on their doors along with fliers to advertise the service.

While Borland said there are retail stores that accept packages on behalf of other people, these locations can come with disadvantages for consumers, notably store hours that may not serve the needs of customers. “They’re closing at six o’clock,” Borland said. By contrast, her service seeks to provide the option for consumers to pick up their packages later in the evening. That is, providers on her platform need to be able to have people stop by until 8 p.m. Borland envisions the service as an offering that retailers could feature directly on their own websites. Keeping in mind the opportunity for future growth, the app was designed in such a way that retailers could plug in to the system to help retailers join the fight against package thefts.

In-Home Delivery And Lockers

Apps like Vyllage aren’t the only way that companies are taking on porch pirates: Amazon Prime customers can utilize Amazon Key, which allows the eCommerce giant to remotely unlock a home’s front door to deposit an Amazon delivery. The customer can watch the entire delivery unfold via Amazon’s Cloud Cam security camera. The compatible smart locks are made by Kwikset and Yale.

At the time of the service’s November launch, Amazon Vice President of Delivery Technology Peter Larsen said, “Amazon Key gives customers peace of mind knowing their orders have been safely delivered to their homes and are waiting for them when they walk through their doors. Now, Prime members can select in-home delivery and conveniently see their packages being delivered right from their mobile phones.”

And self-service package delivery lockers are helping prevent theft of delivered packages. Amazon, for instance, was installing lockers in thousands of apartment buildings across the nation last year, with many ready just in time for the holiday shopping season. At the same time, other companies like Luxer One are providing lockers to apartment buildings to help recipients ensure their shipped gifts and goods are not lost, rerouted or stolen.

Will consumers want the human element of a network of package delivery locations, or will they turn to high-tech solutions like lockers and in-home delivery? That remains to be seen, but the development of such options shows that companies are taking the threat of porch pirates seriously — and trying innovative approaches to resolve it.