Smart parcel lockers stop theft and solve building delivery concerns

10, Jan, 2022

With each passing year, more of our shopping is done online, and recent events have vastly accelerated that trend. Last year’s lockdowns brought a big growth to an already upward-trending e-commerce market. That’s likely to keep climbing after the pandemic, now that so many have familiarized themselves with the process.

Unfortunately, more mail deliveries have led to a spike in attacks from so-called “porch pirates,” indicating a need to have better security measures against these package nabbers.

Patrick Armstrong is the CEO of Snaile – Canada’s Parcel Locker Company, which specializes in automated parcel locker solutions. These lockers can be a bulwark against e-commerce thievery, and have seen widespread traffic as a result of swelling e-commerce numbers.

Armstrong says that when the pandemic started, their network volume ballooned instantly. “The people that live in buildings are sitting at home in COVID. And they're ordering like crazy online more than before.”

He says that the online shopping renaissance, compounded by tighter rules from building management about floor access, has led to logistical hiccups in apartment lobbies.

“A lot of the buildings said 'No, we don't want carriers going up because of COVID. So you're not allowed up.’ And so it would just pile in the lobby,” Armstrong says.

“A lot of buildings that had a security guard would then have a parcel guard. So they created a new job… That sort of human intervention into parcels is not sustainable for many buildings,” he says. “A lot of the buildings don't even have labour. So the parcels would just pile up in front in the vestibule or in the lobby. That causes theft.”

This would allow a porch pirate to upgrade into a building buccaneer. Instead of a single package to pilfer, the thief would now have a lobby full of goods to peruse. The buildup of parcels in walking spaces would also be a fire or tripping hazard.

“That is never provisioned in the building's fire suppression system, to have all this cardboard sitting around. So it's a fire code violation in terms of what they call excessive combustibles in the common areas, plus can be an egress violation too with parcels blocking exits or hallways to exits,” Armstrong explains.

These issues of security and space could be resolved by a solution like Snaile’s, which combines software and hardware to streamline the drop-off process from the moment a delivery worker arrives in a building.

To begin with, as the delivery worker shows up, they log into the Snaile system and pick out the unit the package is for, and the package’s size. If the size selected is medium, a medium-sized locker will pop open, and the worker will place it inside, where content sensors will confirm its placement, and then issue a contactless pickup QR code.

This is sent to the resident’s phone or email through the building’s property management software. Once the resident scans the code on the nearby terminal, the appropriate locker opens up, and they can grab their package. After a final scan by the compartment sensors to ensure nothing is forgotten inside, the process is complete, and the empty locker goes back into an available space pool.

While Armstrong and his team thought the influx of mailed packages would taper off with the end of this or that lockdown, the numbers have stayed high even in regular periods, and are projected to keep climbing. This trend among smart parcel locker purchases will likely receive another boost once office workers transition from working from home, back to full-time or hybrid office arrangements.

“I think we're going to start seeing an emergence in offices, because offices have the same problem as a condo. They're just an office. But because all the offices are empty that problem hasn't reared its head yet,” Armstrong says.

“Maybe if people don't go back to work full time, they'll go back two days a week. So now we have a layover problem.” If a parcel arrives on Monday for a person coming in on Thursday, he points out, there needs to be a place that parcel is held in the interim.

In addition to Snaile’s inbound package solutions, they’re working to allow building tenants to send outbound parcels as well. This outbound parcel service is already in play in commercial applications of Snaile, such as at Ontario Power Generation, one of the company’s commercial office tower customers.

“We're running pilots today where we have some of the major carriers picking up from our lockers in residential applications,” Armstrong adds.

Adding smart parcel lockers into our busy lives could keep us from fretting and sweating over swindled packages, and foil the building buccaneers for good. That stands to make everyone feel more at ease over the safe passage of their deliveries.


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