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'Parcel pirate' fear as Amazon arrives in Australia

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Australians are all too familiar with parcels either not showing up at their homes on the date they are meant to, or having to travel to their local Australia Post office at an inconvenient time to pick up an item (which is often only during business hours) because the postman left behind a "Sorry we missed you" card, even when they were actually home at the time.

In many cases it's preferable for deliveries to be left at your front door. But what about parcel theft?

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After the arrival of Amazon in the US, Americans began to suffer parcel theft from criminals who were dubbed "parcel pirates", otherwise known as "parcel bandits", as more expensive goods began to be delivered to homes.

Could such opportunistic criminals also start to infiltrate Australians' front lawns and porches?

Seventeen per cent of Australian adults aged 18 and over have already experienced parcel theft in their life, according to research commissioned by Nest from 1006 YouGov respondents, combined with data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Nest is the Google-owned internet of things company that sells thermometers, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and security cameras.

Given many workplaces do not allow employees to have personal deliveries sent to their offices, what are people to do?

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Eager to tout its wares, Nest's director of product marketing, Maxime Veron, told Fairfax Media that with many crimes being opportunistic, particularly those involving parcel theft or vandalism, "a visible outdoor security camera acts as an effective deterrent".

But is that really going to work if the thief is wearing a mask? Or is there another solution?

Australia Post recently unveiled its Receva "smart mailbox", which it has been trialling in south-east Melbourne. Dubbed a "secure and convenient place" for your home deliveries, it came about from one of the organisation's internal startups and involves placing a physical cabinet-like device outside your home for posties to put goods securely inside. Customers can currently pre-order one for $249.

But there's one big problem: it only accepts parcels from Australia Post at present. Authorised third-party companies, such as couriers, are being encouraged to express interest in accessing the proprietary mailbox's key. It's understood no third-party access agreements exist at present but it's feared by some in the industry that Australia Post will seek payment for access like it has with its PO and parcel lockers. Australia Post is yet to reveal what commercial arrangements, if any, will apply to Receva when it launches more widely.

The system is anti-competitive, the owner of an upcoming rival Australian-made product called Chester told Fairfax. When launched next year, Chester will be a Wi-Fi enabled outdoor storage chest that messages you to let you know the time of delivery and weight of a parcel once delivered.

Malcolm Lewis, its founder, said he approached Australia Post before it launched Receva but that the company decided to go down its own path of locking people into using its own ecosystem.

The idea behind Chester, Mr Lewis said, was that any courier or postman could leave parcels in it before it locked, preventing others from stealing your parcels, traditionally left near front doors.

Steve Orenstein, the founder of another Australian start-up, Zoom2U, is tackling the problem from another angle. His courier business enables deliveries at times which he says are more convenient than that of Australia Post, ensuring packages get delivered on the first try most of the time.

He said this was one of the biggest problems with incumbent Australia Post's delivery method.

"Australia Post always delivers during business hours," Mr Orenstein said. "It's never when people are actually at home and you never know when someone is going to turn up. Their delivery service was always designed around delivery to businesses. But with e-commerce, this changed things.

"It's a fundamental flaw as to why parcels are stolen," he said, adding that of the close to half a million parcels Zoom2U has delivered to date, none of his customers had reported parcel theft.

Mr Orenstein said the main problem with traditional postal companies was a lack of communications with consumers and not offering them a choice of when to receive a parcel.

"If you solve that, then the need for these smart mailboxes is less," Mr Orenstein, whose company has been operating for three years and has over 700 contracted drivers, said.

His company conquers this parcel theft problem by giving consumers the choice to receive a parcel from 8 am until 10 pm at night, 7-days a week. It is also one of the only companies in Australia that offer live GPS tracking, lets recipients contact drivers directly, and enables consumers to rate their delivery driver. Like Uber but for parcels, one might say.

"When you have had a bad experience with Australia Post, if you don't pick up the phone to complain then nothing ends up happening," Mr Orenstein added. "On our platform, consumers give drivers a rating, meaning we very quickly know if a driver has done the wrong thing."

Currently, Zoom2U typically delivers 40,000 parcels a month and is focused on same-day deliveries within three hours in metropolitan areas. However, it has a partnership with bus company Greyhound to deliver interstate, although Mr Orenstein concedes there's "some gaps".

James Moody, founder of Sendle, said his company did not see a big incidence of parcel theft, adding that "the most important thing you can do is give the receiver a choice" of whether to leave a parcel behind or not.

Moody, whose company offers consumers complimentary parcel insurance, also complained that Australia Post "do not let anyone else in Australia deliver parcels to PO boxes" unless they sign an agreement with Australia Post. He said the consumer regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, should investigate this.

It's understood that Australia Post has agreements with some third-party carriers, allowing them to put parcels in parcel lockers and PO Boxes. However, these are commercial agreements at negotiated rates.

In a statement, Australia Post said customers could take advantage of its parcel delivery services by opting to have their parcels sent to any of its free 24/7 parcel lockers (available in over 280 locations), or directly to a post office of their choice, or to a PO Box.

It said it had also introduced a range of initiatives including an SMS notification service on the morning of delivery, where customers receive a text message with the option of having the driver leave the parcel at a safe location at their home, confirm they will be home or deliver directly to a Post Office if no-one is home.

"We have over six million customers registered for a MyPost account, which contributed to increasing first time delivery by close to five per cent last financial year, and gives them access to delivery choices like safe drop, in flight redirection, parcel lockers and parcel collect," it said.

Australia Post's delivery drivers are also required to take a photo of parcels left in a safe location, which are kept as a record of delivery, it's understood.

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