The rise of package thefts & how they can be prevented

17 April 2023
Hub Box

Porch piracy is an increasing problem, causing issues for retailers and customers. We explore how this can be prevented and the solutions available.

Don’t be a statistic: 23% of Americans had a package stolen last year. Prevent ‘porch pirates’ by:

  • Choosing secure delivery locations
  • Installing video doorbells
  • Scheduling shipments carefully
  • Considering extra insurance for high-ticket items
  • Opting to use a Pickup Point


Porch pirates – what’s the issue for retailers?

As an online retailer, you sweat blood and tears to get those orders picked, packed, and loaded onto the carrier’s van – only to receive an angry email the next day: the customer never received their order.

Once again, your customer service team is forced to enter into a long investigation with the carrier to ascertain what’s happened – while you resign yourself to replacing the ‘lost’ package – all at your cost, of course.

Sadly, the practice of fraudsters swiping packages in plain sight has become commonplace. According to a recent survey, nearly 1 in 4 Americans have had a package stolen in the months leading up to March 2022.


Porch pirates – from the customer side

If you’ve not had the horror of returning home to find that your much-anticipated package has simply vanished into thin air, then count yourself lucky: Nationally, 49 million Americans have had at least one package stolen in the past 12 months. In the UK, it’s a similar story, with almost one third of those surveyed reporting a delivery going missing from outside their home.

Porch piracy is becoming a massive problem, both for retailers and customers. In this article, we’ll look at the scale of the issue, some reasons behind the rise, and finally cover some ways to fight back.


Package thefts statistics in the USA

Where are most package thefts happening?

Top line: there’s some marked variation between States. In a fascinating study, the 2022 Package Theft Annual Report revealed that the unluckiest victims hail from Alaska, Delaware, and Nevada, with 29% and 27% of respective adults from each state reporting one lost package in the last year. At the other end of the scale, we have Maine (12%), Wisconsin (13%), and Alabama (14%) – lower, certainly, but a not insignificant amount, and certainly enough to cause misery and heartache for all the parties involved.

Porch pirates can strike anywhere

While there’s some variation between US States and the prevalence of the crime, a deeper look reveals that porch pirates, like modern-day highwaymen, aren’t fussy about where they take their loot.

They strike across every climate, every built (or open) environment, and across all socioeconomic levels. For example, adults living in New York’s priciest areas were hit similarly to victims living in parts of Mississippi with the nation’s lowest cost of living.


Why & how do porch thefts occur?

Porch thefts are a huge issue, and it’s growing. The question is: why? Some explanations include:

It’s a numbers game

Quite simply, with online sales nearly 15% of retail sales, there are more customers ordering online than ever before, creating greater windows of opportunity for porch pirates.

Opportunity to get away with it

Sadly, thieves know that they can get away with it. Certainly, mail theft is a federal crime, but lawsuits only arise if there is proof that someone took a package from a mailbox or the area right next to it. A stolen package that’s been left on your porch, in the back yard, or so-called ‘safe space’ doesn’t fall under federal jurisdiction.

Opportunities for theft of smaller packaged or low-priced items

While most customers try to be home to take delivery of an oversized or high-ticket item, we’re generally a-ok to leave the lower-priced items in the hands of Amazon, Hello Fresh, and similar services. However, retailers still need a reliable way to provide great service for customers who purchase high-value items online, adding pickup points prevents the risk of theft and the inconvenience of waiting to meet the delivery.

Insufficient placement by carriers

If no one is home when delivery is attempted, the carrier will have several options: post the package through the mailbox, leave it in a preferred safe place, or deliver it to a neighbor. The best carriers will need to comply with ‘safe place’ guidelines for leaving packages: for example:

  • Any designated place must be out of sight of passing traffic
  • The package must be protected from becoming wet

Yet, we all know from social media platforms, drivers have been known to place items in things like trash cans. Yes, they might meet the criteria stated above – but such placements have led to items becoming damaged and more likely to be stolen.

Return to the new normal

The return to the office, socializing, and vacations mean many more customers are out during the day – giving thieves the perfect opportunity to strike. Plus, as ecommerce firms valiantly try to cover every opportunity to get online trade, extending the traditional 9/5 delivery window to cover evenings and weekends, including Sundays: the delivery time may easily cross leisure activities. So, there’s no obvious, or ideal, window for people to be home.

Observance of drop-off times & routes creates opportunity

Thieves get wise when the delivery drivers turn up; they may even buy a few items themselves to monitor when carriers are most likely to send their drivers down a street. This creates a window of opportunity if they can also correlate this time to when the customer is most likely to be at work.

Trust thy neighbor? Be aware.

Porch pirates aren’t always skimask-wearing cliches. Your actual neighbors know your movements pretty much better than anyone so customers should think twice about asking someone they don’t know to take in a package. All these factors lead thieves to be smarter and more opportunistic.


How do package thefts impact retailer reputation?

There are many factors that negatively impact retailer reputation. Here are the key ones:

The cost of refund and replacement

The advice is clear: the retailer is responsible for delivering a package safely to the customer. Even if it’s stolen, the retailer is expected to be the first point of contact, take charge of the process, and arrange a refund or replacement.

The best carriers have robust processes in place to ensure that lost packages are investigated, but the rise of package thefts can result in long timescales with many opportunities for miscommunication between the carrier, retailer, and customer. All this creates extra time and cost burden on the retailer’s customer service team.

Damage to reputation

As the first point of contact, the retailer also feels the impact on their reputation as well as their bottom line. Placed in a catch-22, the retailer is forced to either replace the item as a goodwill gesture or have the unenviable task of telling the customer that they’re not going to reimburse them for the failed delivery. This leaves the business open to a potential PR disaster on social media.

The power of social proof – reviews

In the same way, disgruntled customers may vent their anger at the retailer on review sites, despite them not being directly to blame. The power of social proof means that stolen packages and the resulting negative vibes have the serious potential to lose customers.

In fact, 86% of customers hesitate to purchase from companies with negative reviews. The perceived negative impact can prevent previously loyal customers from returning, and new customers from shopping with the business at all. With fierce competition online, customers can afford to shop around and won’t hesitate in doing so, with 86% of consumers choosing to leave a brand they trusted after only two poor customer experiences.


How can package theft be prevented?

The good news is that there are ways for retailers, carriers, and customers to protect themselves against package thefts. While the onus has traditionally been on the customer to shore up their home and to be alert to delivery schedules, the rise of technology has created new opportunities for both carriers and retailers to stop porch piracy in its tracks. Let’s look at some of these.


How can retailers prevent package thefts?

Home delivery is not an option for many shoppers for reasons such as working hours or those in tower blocks or shared housing. Their only option is to choose a retailer such as Amazon, which offers over 20,000 locker pickup locations that offer the security of package delivery that’s also hugely convenient.

Provide pickup delivery locations

Creative shippers are attacking the problem head-on by partnering with retailers. Instead of dropping packages door to door, the shipper consolidates packages into a single ‘drop’ location (which becomes the collect point for consumers). For convenience, the consumer is offered a selection of suitable collection points at checkout and this information is passed to the retailer, and then the carrier in advance of the delivery.

As a result, pickup locations serve to reduce the risks of porch piracy in one fell swoop. These secure, manned lock-ups are often based in locations that are often open early and late, making it convenient for the customer to collect from, and have the advantage of being highly monitored and secure. Pickup locations range from Post Offices and grocery stores to retail stores and even police stations.

Use plain packaging

Packaging costs are not to be underestimated, and retailers are (understandably) tempted to simply stick a label on an item that comes from the manufacturer securely boxed. But sending out that high-ticket baby carriage in all its technicolor glory is asking for trouble.

Discreet packaging rather than anything overly bright/flashy/branded can be enough to deter package thieves from thinking that the item is worth stealing. Yes, the packaging is expensive, but recycling existing boxes is cheaper than having to replace multiple items.

Choose carriers with good comms, tracker & a customer-friendly app

Offering customers the most flexible delivery options will help ensure that they’re available to receive their package. Gone are the days when customers had to wait around for a slot that could be anything from 9am to 9pm; we now see same-day and multiple delivery slots at checkout to make things so much easier. Real-time delivery tracking means that customers can run their lives around the arrival of the order, with notifications that the driver is just minutes away.

Communicate with customers

The power of regular communication can’t be underestimated. Regular messages, that start from the moment the order is placed, to the moment it is delivered, will give customers the best chance of being around for the delivery. A final notification soon after delivery, along with a robust process for what happens if the delivery isn’t as expected (i.e. has gone missing) will calm customer fears and reinforce the retailer’s reputation.

Enforce signature requirements, or suggest insurance

If the customer has ordered a high-ticket item, it’s worth suggesting at checkout that the customer takes out insurance. Then, in the case of package thefts, the retailer isn’t left holding the can.
How can buyers prevent package thefts?
It doesn’t seem fair that most of the advice on this topic centers on actions that customers can take to protect themselves. But ultimately, implementing these measures can provide some level of protection:

Install security cameras

CCTV cameras, doorbell cameras, and security lights with floodlight sensors – are all good ways to help deter package pirates.
Leave notes for secure delivery
Customers should take care to be specific with their instructions for the carrier. If there’s an extra notes field in the delivery information, then they should be encouraged to use it.

Instructions such as ‘place in the blue box next to the garden shed’ is better than ‘round the back’ for example. And don’t forget: some carriers’ software won’t let customers update this information on the day of delivery, so customers should be given time to review their delivery settings in advance.

Arrange home delivery, or deliver to work

Many carriers let customers specify the day of delivery and if, despite all the flexible options on offer, they really can’t be in – they’re on vacation for example – then customers can nominate to have the package delivered to a friend’s house or to their workplace.

Use a Credit Card for added protection should the worst happen

Most home insurance policies won’t cover deliveries stolen outside the home, from the garden or similar space, so ordering on a credit card may offer additional protection. If the retailer suggests taking out insurance on high-value items, then customers should seriously consider it.


What secure delivery solutions are there?

HubBox provides software that makes it easy to give shoppers pickup options they love. The HubBox retailer solution allows customers to buy online and pick up anywhere with HubBox software, eliminating the risk and complexity of doorstep delivery. For carriers, the HubBox carrier solution makes it easy to work with retailers to create flexible out-of-home solutions that drive down the cost of delivery as well as increasing customer satisfaction, and being more sustainable.

Have questions about how HubBox can reduce porch pirates, reduce the cost of lost packages and accelerate your growth? Check out our FAQs or book a demo today.