The e-commerce titan’s latest effort to improve delivery speed and efficiency is by reducing packaging, including the conventional cardboard box that most of its orders come in. Eventually, more deliveries will arrive on doorsteps in the manufacturer’s packaging only. But while some worry this change will mean increased package theft, perhaps eliminating the box could actually deter it.
In the past year, Amazon has cut down on packaging in order to reduce costs, make faster deliveries, and reach its sustainability goals. In 2022, about 11% of items the company delivered were shipped without the signature Amazon-branded box and instead came in their original containers, according to Amazon’s sustainability report.
“The recognition by a number of senior leaders was just that this is becoming more and more important,” Amazon vice president of packaging and innovation Pat Lindner told The Journal. “There’s a significant need for our company to take the next step in innovation around packaging.”
Users will always have the option to add Amazon packaging to their order for no extra charge at check-out, but the default is boxless shipping, Amazon told Fortune. Still, some consumers worry this change will lead to more of their packages being stolen.
In 2022, an estimated 260 million packages were stolen from all merchants, roughly a 50 million increase from the year prior, CNBC reported. And although sales growth for online shopping is slowing from pandemic-driven highs, it will account for nearly half of retail growth by 2027, according to Forbes.
‘Porch pirate’ psychology
Package thieves, or “porch pirates,” often commit crimes of opportunity, hoping that small boxes might contain expensive items that could be resold, like phones, video game consoles, or computers, according to ADT Security Services. Meanwhile, some criminals simply have a compulsion and steal for the thrill of it.
Psychological research shows that our brains release dopamine in the anticipation of a reward, and the unpredictability of that reward actually increases anticipation and thereby the amount of dopamine released.
“Many people think that dopamine is released when the brain receives a reward, but dopamine is actually released in anticipation of a reward,” according to Psychology Today.
The likelihood of a porch pirate stealing a box that actually contains a valuable item is unpredictable, especially when the item is hidden in a cardboard box. But that unpredictability only makes the thief’s “reward”—both the dopamine released in the brain and the perceived value of the item itself—that much greater. If a thief can see that a shipped item isn’t worth much at the outset, perhaps they’ll be deterred from stealing it.
To be sure, people will continue to steal packages nonetheless, and it remains to be seen if Amazon’s change will increase or decrease theft. Either way, leaving an expensive product, like a brand new pair of Apple AirPods, sitting at a doorstep in the manufacturer’s packaging is probably never a good idea.
“The vast majority of deliveries make it to customers without issue,” Amazon said in an emailed statement. “If something occurs, we work with customers directly to make it right. We have a variety of ways we work with customers to provide visibility and options to their package delivery. Amazon’s customer service is also available 24/7 to help customers with any matters related to their package delivery.”
Opting back in to boxes
Amazon is hoping to create goodwill with its customers who have asked for such changes by reducing the number of boxes they receive and discard every week. The company—which built its success on ease of use and practicality—saw its overall customer satisfaction drop in 2022, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This change is the latest update to the company’s program, which has existed in various iterations since 2008, Amazon said.
And the company isn’t going boxless for all products, Amazon added. Items that could be dangerous, such as those with sharp edges, are not included in the program for safety, nor are collectibles or intimate items, like sexual wellness products, for privacy.
Whether other items can be shipped without a box are determined by tests that involve compressing items, vibrations, and drops from different angles.
In tandem with incentivizing its vendors to improve their own packaging, the company is helping its suppliers develop packaging that is “both sturdy enough to ship on its own while not adding extra material to undercut its whole purpose of doing away with packaging,” The Journal reported.