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Left unchecked, car theft and hijacking will negate the positive impact of the e-commerce growth. Picture: SUPPLIED
Left unchecked, car theft and hijacking will negate the positive impact of the e-commerce growth. Picture: SUPPLIED

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic online retail and home deliveries have become more popular.

Unfortunately, this trend has paved the way for another one — crime targeting delivery vans and motorcycles has also increased. Left unchecked, this insidious crime will negate the positive impact of the e-commerce growth.

According to market researcher World Wide Worx, SA’s online retail has surged. It doubled from 2018 to 2020 due to the pandemic-induced demand for home deliveries. In 2020, it grew 66%, followed by 40% in 2021, and in 2022, SA online retail surpassed R50bn (up 35%), driven by the sustained home delivery demand. This e-commerce boom is happening amid stagnant total retail sales.

Duma Ngcobo is chief operating officer at Tracker. Picture: SUPPLIED
Duma Ngcobo is chief operating officer at Tracker. Picture: SUPPLIED

The lucrative market has continued to see new entrants — Amazon should launch in SA soon and Takealot is the latest to trial a one-hour delivery service. Regrettably, crime aimed at online deliveries proves highly lucrative, whether the objective is acquiring the delivered goods, seizing cash or devices carried by drivers, or commandeering the delivery vehicle.

While the latest SA Police Service crime statistics for the first quarter of 2023/24 noted a slight decline in the percentage of truck or courier van hijackings compared with the same quarter a year ago, the total number of these hijackings increased compared with the prior three-month period, and has been steadily increasing for the past few years.

SA is not alone in this trend. During the pandemic hijackings and theft of unattended delivery vehicles increased in some cities in the US.

However, whereas the circumstances are likely to be more opportunistic overseas, vehicle-related crime in SA is often planned, premeditated and systematic. Local criminals are also taking advantage of the darkness afforded by load-shedding, and in some cases are luring their victims by placing an order.

These robberies are likely to affect drivers, customers, e-commerce businesses and ultimately the economy. First, through the immediate danger and trauma to the driver and customer involved. The driver involved might think twice about returning to work, and the customer might reconsider buying online.

The more these incidents occur, the more likely the reputation regarding the safety and reliability of online deliveries will suffer, which could deter people from buying online. This won’t be the only cost to e-commerce businesses, as the losses from the crime could increase the cost of insurance and lead to an increase in delivery prices.

Thanks to the convenience it affords, home delivery is a key component of online retail, and should therefore be adequately protected.

There are a few steps that e-commerce businesses can take to mitigate the effects of this crime:

• Provide support to drivers, and subsequently customers, through a safety checklist and guidance or training on how to avoid an incident.

• Have insurance to cover unforeseen expenses and offer access to services such as trauma counselling should an incident occur.

• Encourage drivers to report incidents and keep track of these to identify high-risk areas. Consider alternative solutions for these areas, such as storage lockers.

• Also, assess whether additional checks and restrictions for customers, for example no cash-on-delivery for first time orders, might mitigate some risks.

• Consider subscribing to tracking services for businesses to safeguard drivers, delivery items and vehicles. Depending on the service subscribed to, standout safety features include an assist button, share my journey, impact detection, theft retrieval and a cargo door sensor. Some services even offer driver monitoring through on-board cameras, helping to address driver and vehicle safety. Additional functionality can include armed response on demand.

The degree of technological innovation from reactive to proactive and then pre-emptive vehicle tracking has had a positive impact on driving down the rate of vehicle crime. Our statistics indicate that while the level of vehicle crime was significant in the early years of vehicle tracking, this rate declined as vehicle tracking matured and the insurance industry drove an increase in subscriptions to vehicle tracking services.

The more widespread the adoption of new technology, the greater it can assist in mitigating crime. For instance, a report analysing trends in vehicle security devices found that the speed with which a new security measure spreads is almost as important as the effectiveness of the device itself. Legislation requiring new vehicles to have an electronic immobiliser likely contributed to reducing vehicle theft rates by speeding up the adoption of devices.

While we’re not advocating for legislation in this regard, at the very least collaboration within the e-commerce supply chain to find solutions and make delivery vehicles less of a target could help mitigate the effects of this crime. This is particularly important when you consider that many of the delivery drivers are small businesses providing an external supplier service, and their livelihood could be jeopardised in the event of an incident.

• Ngcobo is COO of Tracker.

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