Amazon installed a clutch of metal lockers outside a Fresno, California, gas station convenience store built in 2019 so customers could pick up packages they didn’t want delivered directly to their homes. The shiny lockers shared a computerized screen and sported the e-commerce giant’s ubiquitous smile logo.
The problem, according to a Fresno city councilmember’s complaints last November, was that they were placed along the side of the building, out of sight of security cameras. It wasn’t hard to predict what happened next: Someone tried to get into the lockers.
The attempted break-in should have been a palm-to-forehead moment for Amazon, says the councilmember, Miguel Arias, because that unmonitored location was sure to tempt criminals. After all, the lockers could collectively hold thousands of dollars of merchandise, far more alluring than the inexpensive bags of ice typically found in vending machines in front of the pumps.
“I don’t know how they landed on a gas station,” Arias said of Amazon’s decision to install the lockers. “It’s where you get a beer on your way home after hours, not a place where you go to get your $500 iPhone.” (The convenience store, a local chain called Johnny Quik, didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Fresno isn’t alone in experiencing frustration with Amazon lockers as the company installs them across the country to thwart thieves looking for its easy-to-recognize packages on neighborhood stoops. Chicago residents were baffled when a set of Amazon lockers were installed directly onto a walkway in a city park, partially obstructing a path and adding corporate branding to leafy municipal amenities. Photos of the lockers were widely shared on Twitter and Reddit. Businesses have also had second thoughts after striking deals to host the lockers.
The Chicago conflict taps into larger objections to corporate intrusion onto public property. Corporate names have been added to subway stations and high school sports stadiums. Even the National Parks Service has pondered naming benches and interior spaces after corporate donors. Transit agencies cover buses and fill train stations with ads.
An Amazon smile in a Chicago park might strike some as a small, if obtrusive, element of the tapestry of corporate messaging already in the public sphere. Still, activists and civic planners question whether parks should be added to the list of corporate logo-filled locations. Park space is supposed to serve everyone, not just Amazon customers, said Jennifer Minner, a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University.
“Installing lockers that essentially serve people who are spending money is taking away a broader public benefit that serves more people,” Minner said.
Most locker placements are uncontroversial, and lockers at bus depots and 7-Elevens rarely raise eyebrows. Nevertheless, an awkwardly located locker plays into a broader image problem Amazon has had in managing local relations. The company has been blamed for putting Main Street booksellers and local retailers out of business with predatory low pricing. And community activists have raised concerns about working conditions for Amazon’s subcontracted delivery drivers and at its warehouses — which are sometimes set up in the disused malls it’s blamed for putting out of business.
Amazon didn’t provide information about whether it implements safety and crime prevention measures around its outdoor lockers, or whether that’s the responsibility of the organizations hosting the lockers. But Av Zammit, an Amazon spokesman, said in a statement that the company values community feedback. Amazon is reviewing the locker placement in Chicago “to ensure they are all located in appropriate areas that serve both customers and the community,” he said.
Amazon launched its lockers 10 years ago in Seattle, New York state and the Washington, DC, area. Since then, the lockers have been part of its Amazon Hub service, which includes Whole Foods locations where Amazon customers can pick up their packages at the counter. As of 2019, Amazon said it had installed lockers in more than 900 cities and towns in the US.
Some high-rise apartments also have lockers installed so tenants don’t have to wait at home for a delivery or depend on an apartment manager to give them their packages. Amazon Locker Plus locations offer self-service kiosks as well as an Amazon attendant to help. UPS also offers delivery lockers with its Access Point Program, and some third-party companies offer lockers that accept packages from multiple carriers. Walmart installed parcel lockers in its own stores, but recently began phasing them out.
Locking out porch pirates
Amazon markets the locker installations as a way to combat porch piracy, another problem the company helped create. The lockers also serve as a source of income for public agencies and businesses that host them, though in many cases the rent Amazon pays isn’t disclosed. In Jacksonville, Florida, for example, Amazon partnered with the transportation authority to install lockers at bus terminals and transportation hubs. The agency didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The company struck a similar arrangement in Johnson County, Kansas, with local 7-Eleven stores. 7-Eleven didn’t respond to a request for information on how it handles the safety of outdoor lockers.
Neither partnership has prompted complaints about safety or vandalism.
Still, the placement of Amazon lockers hasn’t always gone smoothly. Staples and RadioShack ended agreements with the company in 2013, removing a service that had invited a competitor into their stores. A set of lockers at Sacramento State University in California was removed two months after it was installed in 2014 because the campus bookstore had the exclusive right to serve as a bookseller at the college.
Few installations have gone as poorly as a recent placement in Chicago’s Brands Park.
In photos posted online, one monolithic segment of lockers appears to consume roughly a third of the walkway and create a blind corner. The placement is near a fence that would make it difficult for a delivery person to unload a dolly of packages while still leaving room for park visitors to get by, especially a visitor who’s in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller.
Community members quickly objected. A petition calling for the removal of the lockers appeared on Change.org and racked up more than 13,000 signatures. (The goal was 15,000.) Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, who represents the ward that includes the park, complained about the corporate logo marring public property even though the city was getting rent for the placements.
Rodriguez-Sanchez told local news outlet Block Club Chicago that the Amazon-branded behemoths are “a slap in the face” because they would net the parks department roughly $137,600 in the first year, at most. “It is not enough to justify having branding in our parks.”
The lockers have been removed from Brands Park, as well as another Chicago park. The program, which had already led to the installation of lockers in 49 parks and aimed for a total of 102 lockers locations, is on hold while the parks department reviews Amazon’s plans.
There’s also the question of how safe Amazon customers might feel going to a park after work, potentially in the dark, to pick up a valuable package. In Fresno, city councilmember Arias said the lockers at the Johnny Quik have become an amenity for his constituents because the convenience store increased safety by installing additional lighting and security cameras. Still, he wondered how no one thought of that concern to begin with.
“You can credit Amazon for a lot of innovation in their logistical delivery system,” Arias said. But the initial installation showed “a lack of understanding of the local community.”