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Package Lockers Deliver Homeowners Some Peace of Mind

Package Lockers Deliver Homeowners Some Peace of Mind
Package Lockers Deliver Homeowners Some Peace of Mind
July 9, 2020   //   

By Beth DeCarbo

Like many Americans these days, the Brotmans of Port Washington, N.Y., buy a lot of stuff online. In one recent week, this family of five received deliveries of clothing, a fire pit, a phone mount for a motorcycle, shop tools, a drum synthesizer, a book on sailing and more.

With five or more deliveries a week—from FedEx, DHL, UPS, Amazon and the post office—things can get confusing. “Some are delivered to my doorstep; some are delivered to mystery locations around the back of my house; and some are delivered to faraway lands for reasons that escape everyone involved,” says Dan Brotman, founder of Media-Star, a digital-content and marketing company.

Long before the days of online shopping carts, homeowners got deliveries primarily in their mailbox. Today, your junk mail arrives reliably and securely in the mailbox, while valuable (and perishable) packages are typically heaped on the doorstep. Our homes haven’t caught up with the Amazon Age.

The Explosion of Internet-Driven Home Delivery

* 49%: Increase in e-commerce sales in April compared with early March (Source: Adobe Analytics)

* 70%: Recent UPS deliveries that have gone to homes, compared with 54% in 2019 (Source: United Parcel Service)

Still, delivery companies have performed well despite the sudden surge of online orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, says Anne Goodchild, director of Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics, a research institute at the University of Washington’s College of Engineering.

Dr. Goodchild’s organization formed the Urban Freight Lab, a working group of academics, cities and industry leaders, in part to study “the final 50 feet,” a term that describes the last leg of a package’s journey from a delivery truck to the customer. Package theft and failed deliveries are two major concerns, she says. “Most delivery failures are caused by communication problems. It’s a pain for you, it’s a waste of the time for the carrier. The more people get deliveries, the higher the losses will be. A lot of our tests and trials are about reducing that loss rate.”

In urban multiunit dwellings, centrally located package storage rooms and delivery lockers have long been a solution to the problem. A National Multifamily Housing Council survey released in 2018 found that 77% of residential buildings have a dedicated space for package storage, with package lockers being the preferred method among respondents.

But deploying package lockers in less-densely populated residential neighborhoods has had mixed results. The U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS and offer over 70,000 access points across the U.S. for package pickup, according to Parcel and Postal Technology International, a trade publication. Access points range from storefronts operated by individual couriers to third-party retail stores like Walgreens to a bank of brightly painted Amazon lockers outside a convenience store. But these require recipients to drive to pickup locations, which are limited to one retailer’s or one carrier’s use. And independent mailbox stores aren’t widely available in many areas.

To eliminate the need to leave home to retrieve a package, a number of companies offer smart locks and boxes for use at home. BoxLock, for example, sells a Wi-Fi connected lock that collects tracking information on coming deliveries and alerts homeowners when they arrive. Delivery drivers use the lock to scan a package’s bar code, which opens the lock on a secured storage box. The homeowner then receives an alert that a package has arrived.

Brad Ruffkess, the CEO who founded Atlanta-based BoxLock in 2017, says the lock enables contactless deliveries of all sorts. Homeowners can provide a QR code for one-time use to a restaurant or grocery store delivery driver, who would leave items in the box.

“If you’re a shipper or retailer, clients will be more likely to buy online if they know it’s going to be delivered securely,” Mr. Ruffkess says.

Locks can be purchased separately for $129 or bundled with a weatherproof storage box and yard sign for $240. Sales have increased significantly since the outbreak of the pandemic, Mr. Ruffkess says, but he declined to give specifics. To encourage delivery drivers to use the lock instead of dropping packages on the doorstop, BoxLock offers training through the courier companies and provides instructional signage that can be placed next to the box, Mr. Ruffkess says.

In Las Vegas, home builder Toll Brothers is integrating package lockers into home designs. It announced last year that it would be installing smart lockers at homes at Mesa Ridge at Summerlin. The company joined with Parcel Pending to provide the lockers, which can be customized to fit the home’s aesthetics.

In the short term, the challenges of home delivery may abate once the Covid-19 crisis is under control. The Center for Infrastructure, Transportation and the Environment is surveying online shoppers, and so far, 95% of 7,000 respondents plan to return to bricks-and-mortar stores for basic goods.

But long-term, the popularity of online shopping is unlikely to stop growing.

“E-commerce has given us access to goods that we never had before,” says José Holguín-Veras, director of the center, based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Now we’re moving to an on-demand economy. If I need soap, I click a button and in an hour I get soap.”