The Christmas packages should have arrived but hadn’t. It was just the kind of niggling concern that makes for jingle-jangled holiday nerves. But for Shannon Westin and her husband, Jason, those vague concerns soon were replaced with bleaker reality.
Just days before Christmas, five Internet-ordered packages filled with family presents went missing — snatched, most likely, by thieves from the Westin doorstep. And those cuddly Christmas cards featuring Baby Westin’s picture? They unceremoniously were dumped in the street 20 blocks from the couple’s Woodland Heights home.
Such indignities, hard to take at any time, are particularly galling in a season of light and love. In the Westins’ neighborhood, residents e-mailed one another with outraged accounts of recent thefts. Some even theorized that criminals were systematic in their plunder, following delivery vans as they made their rounds.
Houston police and parcel companies say that a few common sense steps in arranging deliveries could spare online and mail-order shoppers holiday disappointment, particularly during the final throes of Christmas shopping when tens of millions of packages are being delivered to doorsteps here and across the world.
“If possible,” said police spokeswoman Jodi Silva, “people should be there for delivery.”
When that’s not possible, United Postal Service spokesman Dan McMakin said, deliveries should be made to one’s workplace or to neighbors or relatives available to take the package.
UPS workers routinely ring doorbells to advise homeowners of deliveries. And, McMakin said, they are instructed to always leave packages in the most secure location available.
Federal Express, said spokesman Steve Barber, provides several low-cost options for ensuring packages arrive safely. Among them are signature release services that guarantee that packages are put in the hands of a designated recipient.
U.S. Postal Service leaves packages on doorsteps only when the carrier believes the site is secure, said spokeswoman Dionne Montague. More often, recipients are required to visit the post office to claim packages. At apartment complexes, packages may be left in locked parcel boxes, she said.
Millions of deliveries
Nevertheless, Jerry Warren, the Houston consumer affairs manager for USPS, said his office averages 50 to 100 calls about delayed or missing deliveries weekly. About 80 percent of missing packages are quickly found, he said. Most of the others are located in a few weeks.
Neither USPS nor the private parcel services, though, could estimate how many packages are terminally lost or stolen.
But even a miniscule percentage could represent a sizeable number. UPS expected to deliver more than 22 million packages Monday — part of 400 million packages it’s handled worldwide during the holidays. FedEx delivered 14 million packages on Dec. 14, its season’s peak day.
Mary Lou Cortez, an Avon saleswoman in northeast Houston, said she believes her delivery man, employed by a commercial parcel service, meant well when he hid a package containing cosmetics behind a tree in her front yard. But the transaction ended unhappily. A thief snagged the box of lipstick, skin moisturizer and perfume before Cortez came home from her day job.
“I live on the corner of a busy street,” she said. “I don’t doubt that somebody saw him make the delivery.”
She said the delivery man’s only other — and preferable option — was to have dropped the box inside her fenced yard, which is guarded by a dog.
Empty box returned
Three days after the package was stolen, the empty box turned up in Cortez’s front yard. It was sealed, but not in the manner Avon usually packages its orders. “I’m baffled,” Cortez admitted.
Cortez said Avon replaced the missing items, most of which had been ordered by customers as Christmas presents.
Westin said Amazon.com, from which her family had ordered its Christmas presents, readily agreed to replace the missing items as well.
“This time, though,” she said, “we made it a signature delivery. We left little notes on our porch telling the delivery man not to leave the packages. We told him we’d pick them up at their store.”