With the holidays fast approaching, we're all taking advantage of the convenience of online shopping. After all, why brave the mall when you can click a button and have packages show up on your doorstep?
But buying online opens us up to a big risk: package theft. Holiday gifts may sit on the front porch all day while we're at work, which gives thieves plenty of time to snag them. And if a package is stolen, you may not have much recourse. Neither retailers nor delivery companies are responsible for packages after they've been dropped off, and may or may not offer to replace the product. While you can (and should) file a police report for stolen items, that usually won't get your gifts back.
Instead, let's talk about how to avoid having your packages stolen in the first place.
1. Schedule deliveries with the shipping company
It can be hard to tell when your packages will show up, which makes it difficult to be at home to accept delivery. Fortunately, you can set up notifications with delivery services that will let you know exactly when your package will arrive and reschedule it or have it held for pickup.
Notifications are free, but sometimes rescheduling a package will cost you a fee. Sign up for notifications from UPS, FedEx or USPS to see your alternate delivery options. FedEx will also let you select a nearby Walgreens for delivery (there are 8,000 nationwide and many are open 24 hours), where you can pick up the package.
2. Add delivery instructions to keep packages off the front porch
In some cases, you can add extra delivery instructions to your order. You could ask them to leave items by a side door where they won't be easily spotted by thieves. Look for a "delivery instructions" option when you're entering shipping information, then add any details that can help secure your package.
3. Have packages left inside your house with Amazon Key
It doesn't get any more convenient than Amazon Key, which lets delivery staff unlock your door and leave your package inside. When you get home, your items are waiting for you, safe and sound.
That may sound like a big security risk, but Amazon offers a number of features to make sure your home and your packages are safe:
- When the driver arrives, they'll knock on the door
- If the driver doesn't receive an answer they'll send a request to Amazon unlock your door
- Amazon verifies that the driver has your package is at your address
- Amazon notifies you that your package is being delivered and turn on the Cloud Cam so you can watch the delivery live
- Amazon unlocks the door remotely, without providing the driver with a keycode
- The driver puts the package just inside the door, without entering your home
- The driver closes the door and tells Amazon to lock it
Amazon will send a notification to your smartphone when the package arrives, and record the delivery using a connected camera — which you can watch live or later. That should give you peace of mind that your home is completely secure.
And Amazon Key isn't just for deliveries — you can setup keyless entry for family or guests, or let a dog walker, house cleaner or other service providers into your home.
The downside is the price because you'll need to buy a smart lock and connected camera from Amazon to start using the service. You can choose smart locks from Schlage, Yale and Kwikset, which come bundled with an Amazon Cloud Cam for $250 to $300. These locks will also require installation, which you may need to pay for if your DIY skills aren't up to scratch. However, after paying the up-front cost, package delivery services are free for Prime members.
4. Have Amazon packages delivered to your car
Another Amazon Key option is in-car delivery. If you own a connected car that allows remote lock and unlock features, Amazon delivery drivers can unlock your car, leave your package inside, and relock it. All you have to do is park your car in a publicly accessible area and, like in-home delivery, Amazon confirms the driver has your package and is at the right location, then notifies you before unlocking your car so they can put the package inside. Delivery windows are four hours, so you'll need to make sure your car will be in the same place for a while, but it's a good option for getting deliveries while you're at work or at school.
This service is also free for Prime members, but it isn't available in every area and won't work with every vehicle. Still, if it's available to you, it's very convenient.
5. Get deliveries on your schedule with a delivery service
We love Doorman, a service that accepts package deliveries and then brings them to you at a time you specify. All you have to do is sign up for an account and then have your packages sent to Doorman rather than your home address. It will cost a $5 per delivery plus $2 per package a la carte, or you can subscribe starting at $19 per month if you're likely to get lots of deliveries.
The big downside to Doorman is that it's currently only available in a few metro areas: San Francisco, Chicago and New York City. If you're outside of their service area, you'll have to look for other options.
6. Completely customize your delivery options with TaskRabbit
If you don't want to brave the mall, someone else can always do it for you. TaskRabbit can pick up items from just about anywhere and bring them straight to you.
Simply go to TaskRabbit, describe what you need to be done, and then select a Tasker from a list of qualified individuals. You'll pay for services by the hour, and the rate varies depending on the Tasker you select. That can be pricier than other options, but TaskRabbit lets you customize exactly how and when you'll receive a delivery — something you won't get from other services.
7. Watch for deliveries and package thieves with a video doorbell
Though a video doorbell can't stop a thief from stealing a package, it can act as a deterrent. When the delivery person rings the bell, you can speak with him or her and instruct the person as to where to leave the package. And, like a security camera, video doorbells are motion activated and will capture video of anyone approaching your front door. So if a person doesn't ring the bell and steals your package, you'll have a video of the thief to give to the police.
Like Amazon Key, getting a video doorbell is an upfront expense (expect to pay between $100-$200), and requires installation. After your camera is set up, it may require a subscription for cloud recording, which will add up. Think of a video doorbell as an investment in home security instead of a simple package tracker.
If you aren't sure what to buy, take a look at our list of the best video doorbells. Our favorite is the SkyBell HD ($199 from SkyBell, check price on Amazon), which doesn't have subscription fees, though it does require a little extra installation effort because it has to be connected to your home's wiring. But if you want a completely wireless doorbell, we recommend the Ring Video Doorbell 2 ($169 from Ring, check price on Amazon).
8. Pick an alternate delivery location
The easiest way to avoid package theft is simply not to have packages left on your porch in the first place. Having it delivered to an alternate location where someone is available to accept it on delivery is a safe and often free way to avoid package theft. Consider delivering your package to:
- A local relative or trusted neighbor who will be home to pick it up when it arrives
- Your office, where there's probably always someone on-hand to accept delivery
- A P.O. box or UPS mailbox, though be aware that these have a monthly rental cost and not all PO boxes will accept packages — find out before you rent!
If you're shopping from Amazon, however, there's another option: Amazon Locker. These Amazon-branded lockers are available in more than 900 cities, and Amazon can deliver packages directly to a locker rather than to your door. Here's how it works:
- Search for a locker location near you on Amazon's Locker page or when selecting shipping options at checkout
- Select the locker you want
- Complete checkout as normal
- When your package is delivered, Amazon will email you a 6-digit code to access your locker
- Pick up your package from the locker within three days to avoid it being returned
9. Opt for in-store pickup
Practically every retailer with physical stores will let you to pick up purchases in your local store rather than have it delivered to you. This can be a really convenient option, particularly for big retailers like Best Buy, Target and Walmart which have locations everywhere. As a bonus, there's usually no delivery fee for in-store pickup.
When you're checking out, just look for the in-store pickup shipping option and select the store nearest you. If the item is in stock, you can usually pick it up on the same day. When your order is ready, head into the store, skip the checkout line and look for the package pick-up or customer service desk to grab your item and get out quickly.
[Image credit: package on doorstep via BigStockPhoto]