Toronto bakery OMG Baked Goodness opens earlier than many of the other businesses on its strip of Dundas Street West. That’s how owner Lesley Mattina fell into accepting her neighbours’ deliveries – she was always there anyway, so she told nearby business owners she’d be happy to hold on to their packages.
But after people started posting on a neighbourhood Facebook group about a rash of package thefts from home doorsteps this spring, she decided to expand the informal service to others in the area.
“Almost every day for a while, there was another post about another package stolen,” she recalled. “I knew people were really struggling with it in the neighbourhood, but I was absolutely blown away with how excited people were, and how grateful they were, when I posted that they could mail things here. … They thought it was such a grand gesture. It hasn’t been onerous.”
OMG is among a niche group of Canadian small businesses that accept packages for customers and neighbours in an attempt to circumvent theft. The entrepreneurs – largely people running shops with long hours and steady foot traffic – say the service is appreciated by their customers, helps make a few extra sales and has enriched their sense of community as they become more familiar with their neighbours.
“It’s smart [for business] because it becomes a trustworthy spot, a reliable spot and part of your lifestyle,” said Saj Qureshi, a loyal OMG Baked Goodness customer who started using the service soon after it was offered.
Mr. Qureshi had previously had two packages stolen and, until this solution came up, had stopped ordering things online. “Lesley didn’t try to charge anything and wasn’t trying to profit from it. She was offering genuinely to help you out.”
Lori Nytko runs Full of Beans Coffee, not far down Dundas Street from OMG. She laughed when she saw Ms. Mattina’s Facebook post because she’s been accepting packages for people in the area since she opened more than eight years ago.
“A lot of people around here live in apartments, with no safe place to have mail sent,” she said. “The people who live above the store, they don’t have any doorbells for big packages to get delivered, so they just get it delivered here.”
Ms. Nytko said she sees the coffee shop as akin to a modern general store, a gathering place where customers and staff see each other so frequently that building a rapport is inevitable. The package service is an extension of that, she added, saying she also holds keys for customers leaving on vacation, or those expecting an Airbnb guest.
“To me, that’s what your local coffee shop does,” she said. “You and the people work together. … It’s not expected that they’ll buy stuff, we’re just being friends.”
While Ms. Nytko and Ms. Mattina said the service is more about community than making sales, they both said it’s rare that someone comes in for a package and walks out without a treat of some kind.
Philip Green, owner of Emerald Coffee in Hamilton, Ont., has been allowing friends and regular customers to pick up their packages at his shop since about March, and he says he’s open to expanding that circle “as long as they buy coffee.” He got the idea from his former barbershop in Toronto. “I would see them handing out packages, and it was always the same lady [receiving them],” he said.
Since moving to Hamilton, Mr. Green says some items he ordered have gone missing on delivery and he suspects they might have been stolen. Once Emerald opened in 2018, he started sending everything there and some of his friends soon followed suit.
In-store package pickup isn’t the only innovative solution to the theft problem. Canada Post offers FlexDelivery, which allows users to ship to their chosen post office. Pudo and Penguin Pickup offer shipping addresses across Canada, and Amazon will ship its products to Amazon lockers in Toronto and Vancouver, situated in retail stores including Whole Foods. The Guelph-based health and beauty website Well.ca will ship its products to any Rexall store, as the pharmacy chain also sells some of the e-commerce site’s products in-store.
Michael Matas, owner of Riverfront Wine and Spirits, says he’s exploring the idea of receiving packages at his business as an added stream of revenue. His shop is at the ground level of a 10-tower residential complex in Calgary’s Chinatown. The development has three concierge desks, and he often sees Amazon delivery people who aren’t sure where to drop things off. Mr. Matas is floating the idea of receiving packages as a subscription service, but says it would have to be a formalized arrangement.
“Being in business, the biggest thing is accountability,” he said, adding that he would want customers to sign a waiver relieving him of liability for potential issues such as package loss or damage. “I can’t just be holding onto this stuff without an agreement.”