Mailbox Stores’ New E-Commerce Plan Fights ‘Porch Pirates’

By Thomas Black | August 26, 2019

An association of independent mailbox-store owners is forming a national network for receiving e-commerce packages, seeking to add a layer of security for consumers while capitalizing on the surge of online shopping.

Retail Shipping Associates plans to announce an effort Friday to organize the group’s stores under a national brand called the Package Hub Business Center, which consumers would use to accept e-commerce deliveries.

The campaign looks to fill a niche for consumers and shippers concerned about so-called porch pirates, who steal parcels left on doorsteps. It also could entice FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc., which need to expand profit margins squeezed by inefficient, single-package deliveries to homes.

FedEx and UPS have signed up retail chains such as drugstores to take packages when consumers can’t receive them at home. Because the RSA’s members focus on shipping, they can offer better service for package pickup and drop-off, said association President Brandon Gale.

“We offer more than just shipping,” he said in an interview. “We offer a high-touch, high-service network. That’s what we do for a living.” If enough volume is generated, the association might offer to hold a package until a customer arrives at home and then deliver the parcel within a half-hour window.

The RSA aims to sign up 500 stores in six months and 2,000 in 18 months, he said. About 90% of the RSA’s roughly 7,100 members have only one store, offering remote mailboxes, shipping through the major parcel companies and other mail services.

At the outset, the association expects that a consumer would pay a small fee to have a package delivered to one of its locations. The goal is to persuade FedEx and UPS to pick up the cost, since they would benefit from consolidating residential deliveries.

In addition to signing up CVS Health Corp. and other retailers to offer drop-off points, UPS has its own stores, including those purchased from Mail Boxes Etc. in 2001. FedEx has drop-off deals with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and others and owns Kinko’s stores, which it purchased in 2004. Inc., meanwhile, is quickly building its own home-delivery network.

For Rita Warren, who owns Beach Mailbox and Gifts in San Diego, Package Hub would generate revenue for parcels she receives now on behalf of her 300 mailbox customers. She’d prefer for the big couriers, rather than her customers, to pay for the service.

“There’s definitely an explosion of e-commerce,” said the former tech-industry consultant, who bought her store four years ago. “It’s showing up every day on our doorstep.”

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