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Passing the parcel or passing the buck, who pays for all the careless deliveries?

Pricewatch: The rise of online shopping has led to greater demands being placed on delivery companies and their drivers, resulting in more problems for customers

When it comes to shopping we are probably living in the best of times with a seemingly endless stream of options that can make it as easy to shop in Shanghai as in Shankill, Texas or Termonfeckin.

The pandemic fuelled an explosion in online retail in Ireland, a country where growth had been sluggish compared with some European Union countries, and the Covid restrictions prompted many shops and shoppers to overcome barriers to online shopping that they otherwise might not have.

With more people buying and selling online, more demands were placed on delivery companies and delivery drivers, who often found themselves working from dawn to dusk getting parcels into the hands of consumers.

Sometimes they did not actually get parcels into hands, though. The need for contactless deliveries and social distancing meant companies dispensed with signatures as a proof of delivery and drivers engaged in what amounted to a game of runaway knock with their customers.


Doorbells would be pushed, parcels would be left on doorsteps and drivers would leave the scene like they were fleeing a crime.

Generally speaking it was grand. But sometimes it was not.

Stories started to emerge of enthusiastic dogs wolfing down clothes and expensive technology left on the street for all the world to steal. Books and art were deposited in wheelie bins and taken away by binmen unaware of the new world order and the fact that they were sometimes compacting the shopping of those living along their routes.

The hangover from the pandemic has yet to lift and many drivers working with some companies remain under extreme pressure to deliver, which has led to some parcels of high value still being left on the doorsteps of houses, exposed to bad weather and bad people.

On at least four occasions in recent weeks Pricewatch has bought fairly low-value products from a somewhat popular online retailer and had them delivered straight to our door – but only to the door – before the delivery vans disappeared into the gloom.

This page calls Dublin’s north inner city home and while it is a lovely place to live it is neither crime- nor rain-free, so the fact that none of the parcels was stolen or destroyed by downpours despite lying unattended for hours is close to miraculous.

The carelessly delivered parcels – which could just as handily have been left with any one of a dozen direct neighbours who are all wearily accustomed to accepting packages for others on the street – prompted Pricewatch to take to the platform formerly known as Twitter to see if others had noticed deliveries being dumped on their doorstep.

In not much more than a day we had received hundreds of responses, with virtually all of the companies whose vans are seen criss-crossing the country being called out for poor deliveries.

The shoppers

Caroline Sweeney had three parcels “dumped” at her door over Christmas. They were “not even addressed to here,” she said. She couldn’t get hold of the delivery company so “delivered them myself to correct addresses”.

Louise Cuddy had a package left on her doorstep in November. “I was away for half an hour at the time but package never turned up. Retailer took no responsibility and I couldn’t get through to the delivery company despite trying. Was £70 out of pocket.”

Rosita Apaza Machaca sent us a pic of a parcel “left a few days ago in the pouring rain, completely unattended on a busy street. Companies do not hold their delivery drivers accountable. I’ve lost several items in this way. No buyer protection.”

Aoife Ryan noted that it happens “all the time” despite the fact that she works from home. “It takes me 10 seconds to open the door, but the driver is back in his van by then, they’re not waiting to see if anyone’s home. So on days I don’t happen to be home things would be left at the door until 5.30pm.”

Seanie Flanagan had it even worse with parcels “usually fired over the fence or left on the gate pillar, often dumped at the wrong address. Will sometimes say they attempted to deliver even though somebody might have been home all day waiting for it.”

For Simon Dyke, of equal annoyance “is when you see on the delivery details that they attempted to deliver the parcel and you know they didn’t even try – it got near to finishing time and they couldn’t be bothered to actually deliver.”

Sam Kirwan recalled how a delivery company “left several rolls of attic insulation at my front door in the rain. Didn’t even ring the Ring doorbell – just left it all there and drove off. And no customer service number available, of course.”

Seems like the benefit of delivering first time every time outweighs the risk of theft to the delivery companies

—  Eamon Moran

Fiona McCardle had an order that didn’t come within the retailer’s two-day delivery target, and she was going away for a week. “So I went to great lengths ringing them and [the delivery company] to ask for a hold to be placed on delivery. They still left the box outside my house while I was gone.”

“I literally just got home now to receive a package only to find the package was delivered sometime during the day, even though I was told it would be delivered between five and six. It was laying on my lawn in the rain ... and no call from anyone to say it was delivered,” wrote Kathy Newman.

“Everyone knows that the delivery people are doing this more often and in general we are glad of it because the alternative is the driver has to try deliver again,” posted Eamon Moran. “Seems like the benefit of delivering first time every time outweighs the risk of theft to the delivery companies.”

Gillian Morrissey said a delivery company has “taken to not knocking on the front door and placing orders in the wheelie bin! It happened to me with a laptop. I only noticed the package in there when I needed to open the bin.”

Declan Swanton lives in Germany and said the practice was “totally normal” there. “They don’t even bother ringing. Countless times when I’ve been at home, I get an email telling me that the package has been ‘handed to a resident’. I check outside and find it dumped somewhere in the yard in the rain.”

Sometimes the parcels are very, very expensive. Catriona Aken ordered an iPhone and it was due to be delivered last week. It was but left “just outside the door in the rain. I was away, himself at work but a neighbour came and picked it up. I live in an estate so it is busy enough. Usually I wouldn’t panic but the phone was very expensive.”

Not as expensive as the package Marty Duffy was waiting for, mind you. He had “€5,000 worth of Formula 1 GP tickets thrown into the garden at the wrong address the other side of my village last year. The householder brought them to the village post office and I found out due to the diligent postmaster. Courier was a disaster.”

Eamonn Keating had a disaster of his own at Christmas when a hamper was “thrown over my front gate. Two bottles of wine smashed inside, destroying all other contents. The “fragile” sticker obviously wasn’t large enough!”

Rowena Neville found a delivery “on wet grass (it had been thrown into the garden prob a couple of days previously). It had been raining solidly. Box clearly stated it was something for a disabled person (who could never have retrieved it independently). The box + item was full of slugs.”

The shops

While consumers tend to be front and centre when it come to sharing horror stories, retailers can have a pretty tough time of it too.

Darragh Murphy has been running the always funny Hairy Baby T-shirt site from his Cork base for more than 15 years but he is not laughing when he talks about his tribulations dealing with delivery firms.

“I’ve been through almost every courier company in the country and have seen some shocking stuff,” he says. “We have had courier companies dropping stuff off and signing for it themselves and then our customers are getting on to us looking for the parcels.”

He says that nine times out of 10 the customer will find a parcel “because it has been delivered to a shop down the road or put in a bin out the back on in a shed or by a wall or it’s been given to a neighbour,” Murphy says. “But it takes a number of days for us to find that out, so there can be double deliveries.”

Far too often he has endless over and backs with the courier companies and “it’s a real headache. Speaking to drivers over the years, I know the pressure that is put on them. Some get paid per parcel and in some cases only get cents per parcel delivered.”

He stresses that the issues are “ultimately between us and the courier company. The onus is on us to deliver to you. It can come down to them saying ‘we delivered it’ and if we ask for proof of delivery they will send us a copy of a scan of a signature which is totally illegible. we have to go back to the customer and the customer says that’s not their signature and then we go back to the courier company and a whole week has gone by and the customer is getting irate so we have to send out another parcel and we’re out of pocket. Ultimately we never get a rebate from the courier companies. It’s a head melt and it can consume hours of our day just dealing with it.”

What Darragh Murphy calls a head melt, Mike Conn of Conn’s Cameras in Dublin describes as a “vortex of shite”.

While Hairy Baby delivers relatively low-cost items to discerning consumers, many of the products Conn’s Cameras ships are very expensive indeed.

“I would say 99 per cent of our orders get through the next day around the country and it’s a brilliant and efficient service for the money that we spend,” he begins. “But the 1 per cent that are a problem are a real problem.”

The shop has taken to putting stickers on its boxes telling delivery drivers not to not leave them on doorsteps.

The retailer is taking it on the chin, it’s not worth fighting it so you are just absorbing it into your business costs

—  Mike Conn of Conn’s Cameras

“The reason we do that is that we’ve had stuff left on doorsteps in busy environments or left in an apartment block inside the door where 500 people have access. If a parcel is left sitting there and goes missing we have had to take serious hits on the chain. We never go to our insurance company because we know that all our insurance will go through the bloody roof or we may not get insured at all if the claims are so high, so we’re regularly taking a hit on stuff.”

He has sympathy for the drivers, many of whom are self-employed. “They get paid per drop and may have driven 15 miles out into the country and there’s no other delivery anywhere near that particular place and they don’t want to have to come back a second time. The chance of it being robbed is small but they may not have somewhere dry to put it so it’s left in the elements.”

He says the shop now uses An Post for those type of rural deliveries because while it might cost more, there is more security that the parcels will arrive safe and sound.

“Our biggest thing is the security,” Conn continues. “When Covid came, companies no longer took signatures from people and they still don’t take signatures. What they say is that their van was outside that premises so that’s all they’re proving. They are not proving that the driver got out and actually delivered the product. I would love to see the signature thing coming back.”

Like Murphy, he picks up the tab for lost products. “The retailer is taking it on the chin, it’s not worth fighting it so you are just absorbing it into your business costs and take it as a kick in the nuts every time it happens. They will say they have a process but you’re passed from Billy to Jack, you get the runaround and put into the vortex of shite. They have no interest in resolving it and they just want you to go away. It isn’t worth the time involved.”

The delivery company

We also contacted some of the State’s leading delivery companies to get their view on the state of things. Only one company responded to our queries – An Post.

Do delivery drivers working for your operation ever leave unattended parcels outside of homes and does the company believe this amounts to a successful delivery?

An Post delivery postmen and postwomen should never leave unattended parcels outside addresses – unless the receiving customer has expressly asked them to do so. Customers receiving barcoded parcels will receive an email or text notifying them in advance of the delivery and offering them a number of options should they not be home to accept the parcel, eg: have it delivered to a different address; left with a neighbour; left in a ‘safe place’ of their own choosing (eg a porch or shed or under decking); or pick up from the local An Post delivery depot or post office.

If the customer is not at home, and has not indicated an alternative delivery location, the post person will leave a docket detailing the attempted delivery and the times the parcel will be available for collection within five working days from either their local delivery unit or local post office. A successful delivery is achieved only when the customer receives their parcel.

What forms of proof of delivery are sufficient in the company’s eyes? Is it a signature? A photograph of the parcel at the doorstep?

For proof of delivery, An Post records the recipient’s name, or requests a signature for a registered post item, or a clear digital request from the customer that the item be left in a particular place.

How are delivery drivers paid for their work? Are they paid an hourly rate or per parcel delivered?

An Post is very clear about saying no to the gig economy where people are paid piecemeal rates per parcel or hour worked, with no income security. Our postmen and postwomen receive a pensionable salary to cover their full day’s work on a postal route. Rates of pay are determined by length of service and responsibility. Staff receive overtime pay for working additional hours and have access to career progression, training and health-and-safety programmes. All An Post delivery staff are fully Garda vetted and wear distinctive uniforms.

On a typical day what volumes of deliveries are drivers expected to handle?

This depends on whether it’s an urban or rural area, and on the terrain and nature of the buildings to which we are delivering. An urban postwoman delivering to a development of 500 apartments and duplexes would deliver a whole lot more items than a postman on an isolated rural route – but he would have far greater driving and delivery time (accessing one-off isolated farmhouses, etc).

As the number of traditional letters continues to decline steadily and parcel volumes increase, delivery routes are designed using the perfect mix of expertise from local post-people, their managers and the latest route-design technology, and reviewed on a regular basis. Changes in the profile of mail (fewer letters, more parcels), new housing developments or rural depopulation mean regular reviews are vital to ensure best service for customers and fair workloads for staff. Everything that goes out in the van/electric trike must be delivered or an attempt made to deliver it.