Amazon Using Photos for Proof of Delivery


Amazon has been quietly testing photos on deliveries in select U.S. metro areas.

According to an article in USA Today, the company rolled out an update to its delivery device and app that drivers use that may mean there is a broader rollout planned soon.

Motorola / Zebra Technologies MC9500 Series Scanner (now Discontinued)

Using images for POD (Proof of Delivery) is not a new idea, and I am aware that FedEx at least once considered such a test.

Some of the scanners used by FedEx and other courier companies have photo capability and GPS tracking built in.

The Motorola MC9500, a customized version FedEx deployed around 2010, could capture images and video.

A few years ago in an invoice discrepancy dispute with my FedEx rep, she was able to confirm images the company had of my packages as they moved through the system.

Those images were taken in the scanner tunnels used in virtually every sorting facility by FedEx. (A typical scanner tunnel is shown here in use by UPS)

Image: UPS | Sorting Facility Scanner Tunnel
Image: UPS | Sorting Facility Scanner Tunnel

This information allowed us to sort out why some shipments we sent were being caught up with dimensional weight charges when in fact we were using FedEx boxes that were not subject to that dim weight at that time.

We learned our shipping software did not send to FedEx the fact we were using a FedEx box. Therefore the FedEx scanners measured the dimensions of the box and charged the shipment according to dimensional weight rules.

It was the pictures that cleared up that we, in fact, were using FedEx boxes and then we were able to trace the source of the issue.

In a second exchange with FedEx we had a shipment returned to us via a pre-paid label sent to a customer, but the box we received was not the product we sent him. It became clear to us that the paper label came off the original shipment and then was pasted over the shipping label on the box we received.

Again using images of the shipments, FedEx was able to trace when this happened because one picture showed the original box and another image showed an entirely different box. In the end, our box was found and sent to us and FedEx sent the incorrect box to the actual recipient as well and all was good.

It was from one of these exchanges that my FedEx rep discussed the company was considering testing using images for POD. Since I no longer ship products using FedEx anymore, I am not sure if those tests ever happened or if they are ongoing somewhere.

Back to Amazon

Amazon acknowledges the existence of this photo POD program with a help page:

“Amazon Logistics (AMZL) may take a photo on delivery when a package is left unattended. Capturing delivery photos is intended to help customers see that their package was safely delivered and where. The photo will focus on the placement of the package. If a photo on delivery is captured, it may show up when you track a package from Your Orders.”

On the page, the company further states that delivery photos can only be accessed after signing into the user’s account. And shipments where the address is marked as confidential, such as Wish List or Registry addresses, the company will not post the POD image.

How will Amazon use the images? At the moment the company says customer service may look at the photos to troubleshoot what happened to a package after receiving a complaint from a buyer, and it may use the pictures for “quality purposes.”

End to Liberal Not Received or Damaged Claims Policy?

Amazon has always been known to have a very liberal policy about delivery failures. If a customer complained that a product was damaged, or the item shows delivered but the buyer claimed not to have it, typically Amazon provided quick relief with little hesitation.

Presumably, during the test phase, the company collected a lot of data, and this may include data about how often buyers attempt to scam the company on delivery “problems.” Reducing claims scams would help the company save money.

However, a more likely scenario and one very beneficial for all parties is that Amazon is trying to resolve delivery issues made by honest mistakes of the delivery person or the buyer.

If provided with an image of the delivered package, a buyer may help the company identify if the item was delivered to the right location or if it was left in a “hidden” place where the buyer was not looking.

The good from these images may help resolve a lot of standard problems to the satisfaction of the buyer. But it may also identify problem areas and addresses hit by “porch pirates.”

It is a standard protocol for risk management in FedEx and UPS to avoid leaving deliveries to addresses or blocks of addresses that have a high claim rate. In theory, photographs may help in identifying high claim areas.

While FedEx and UPS do not notify receivers if they are in such an area, if consumers receive frequent door notices on packages that do not require a signature, then they are located in such an area. Could Amazon go down the same path as UPS and FedEx, it is a possibility.

Also, since Amazon Logistics in the U.S. uses contract couriers, it may also help identify problem couriers and help in training couriers to find better locations to leave packages.

As Amazon seems to bring in-house more deliveries, including building out its own national delivery network (see our article on Shipping with Amazon), the company will improve on technology at all stages of the logistics process.

Using photos may help identify standard problems and better customer service, it may help identify problem addresses or neighborhoods, and it may help in training drivers.

There is a lot Amazon could do with the POD photos, but until Amazon rolls out the service nationwide, we may not know yet how Amazon plans to use the images.

The company does offer the possibility to opt out of photo PODs, but it seems that could be construed as a negative in a legit claims situation.

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