Building Managers Deluged With Packages Turn To Controversial App For Help
Apartment managers were swimming in packages before the pandemic started, but now they’re drowning. One potential solution, though, has led tenants to send a message to their landlords: “Stop trying to make Fetch happen.”
Austin-based startup Fetch, which promises to handle packages off-premises and deliver them to tenants in an efficient process, has emerged as a tech company equipped to handle the deluge, serving roughly 1,000 apartment communities in markets throughout the United States.
But some tenants who have become accustomed to Amazon’s next-day or same-day delivery have grown so frustrated with the service that they’ve driven Fetch to an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, created a subreddit called r/EndFetch and even threatened to organize against their landlords in apartment buildings in D.C. and elsewhere.
The criticism, which stretches from Seattle to Texas to D.C., calls into question the efficiency of third-party solutions for package deliveries. And it could draw negative attention to buildings that use the service and potentially lead residents to move away from them.
“If they force us into Fetch, I am not staying in the building. And a lot of other people have said that as well,” said Jose Romero, a resident of Flats 130 in D.C.’s NoMa neighborhood, which began using Fetch’s services last week.
Building managers have struggled with package volume for years as e-commerce has made shipping products of all kinds easier for apartment tenants. As early as 2017, building managers told Bisnow residents had gone from ordering a package a week to a package a day.
Initially, developers began growing the size of their package rooms in order to handle the deliveries, which could be anything from groceries to a full-size kayak. But tech-centric solutions entered the market just as apartment managers began to balk at the costs of added labor and remove amenity space to devote more resources to deliveries.
Fetch Package Inc., founded in 2016, is one such solution. The service, which on its website purports to serve 300,000-plus units across 27 markets, instructs its residents to route their packages to its warehouse, where it processes them. Residents can then either schedule a two-hour block for Fetch couriers to bring a delivery to their door or visit the warehouse themselves to receive the package.
In the D.C. area, Fetch said it operates three warehouses, one each in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, serving more than 50 communities. Fetch declined to make CEO Michael Patton available for a phone interview, but in response to emailed questions sent through a spokesperson, he said Fetch is the only service to remove the burden of handling packages on-site from building management.
“Many communities don’t have the space or manpower to accept the volume and size of packages arriving constantly,” Patton wrote. “When you add in the labor shortage the multifamily industry is experiencing, you can see the problem grows exponentially.”
Patton said the service, which allows residents to choose between requiring a signature or allowing couriers to leave a package at the door as late as 10 p.m., meets tenants’ expectations for “convenience and the highest service level possible.”
The company touts an internal measure of “99% delivery satisfaction rate among residents in the D.C. area,” and claims its BBB rating is misleading because it hasn't paid for accreditation, adding that most major carriers have poor ratings.
But at the 643-unit Flats 130 apartment building, residents have shared a variety of concerns both with management company Bozzuto and with local media outlets about Fetch’s rollout, including about the timing of the switch.
Bozzuto first informed residents Aug. 29 that the building would begin using Fetch within days, and invited Flats 130 tenants to an information session with Fetch the next day.
In a follow-up email, Bozzuto said the office of Flats 130 was receiving 100 to 200 packages each day, and said it was making the switch to Fetch after "extensive research and consideration."
"Over the last few years, we’ve continued to see an increase in the number of packages that are delivered to our community," said an email sent to tenants from Bozzuto's Flats 130 email address and shared with Bisnow. "Based on the growing volume of deliveries, it’s become apparent to us how important it is to provide a way to get packages to your front door in a more direct way and when it’s most convenient to you."
But Romero, who runs a side business out of his apartment selling enamel pins and other items from an Etsy shop, said the short notice gave him little time to adjust to the new service. What’s more, he said it violates a lease agreement addendum he signed with Bozzuto, stipulating that packages will be received by an agent of the property company and that deliveries are made at no charge.
Bozzuto hasn't responded to a request for comment about how its contract with Fetch fits into the terms of its lease agreements. In a statement, Bozzuto Managing Director of Operations JoLynn Scotch said it has "rolled out Fetch on a trial basis at select communities" and is seeking feedback from its residents.
Fetch, for its part, said it charges the property management company a service fee, but it is up to the managers whether they pass on that cost to the tenants. Some BBB complaints have reported costs of $20 to $25 per month to get their packages delivered.
Romero first signed a lease with Bozzuto at Flats 130 in February 2021 and renewed a year later. He said for a while the building was one of his favorite places he’d lived.
“I love the building. It’s in a great location, I follow them on Instagram,” Romero said. “Literally two weeks before this Fetch thing, I posted, ‘I love this building, it’s great to live here.’”
But Romero said he’s frustrated by the rollout of the service, and hasn’t been able to access the supplies he needs for his business readily. Fetch has sent Romero’s packages to its Alexandria, Virginia, warehouse, Romero said, and he has had trouble scheduling a time to receive them without making a long commute there himself.
Bozzuto isn't the only D.C.-area landlord to use the service. Fetch said it currently serves more than 30,000 residents in the market, including residents of The Louis on 14th Street NW. The building manager of The Louis, Greystar, declined to comment.
Complaints have also cropped up in other markets. In Redmond, Washington, a resident of an apartment building served by Fetch told local TV station KIRO 7 that he pays for Amazon Prime but has always received his packages two to eight days after they’re delivered to Fetch. He said he’d “love to get $10-$15 back from them, just to know this is a problem.”
The Seattle-based station also reported visiting Fetch’s Kirkland warehouse in August and saw packages sitting out “in the blistering heat.”
Citing those reports and their own experiences, other tenants are beginning to organize against Fetch, and they are sharing tips on how to do so online.
In a post to the r/EndFetch subreddit entitled, “How we got rid of ( partially ) Fetch,” a user who said they lived in an apartment community in Portland, Oregon, outlined how residents organized in their building, sending letters to their landlord and eventually succeeding in making the service optional for tenants.
The user said Fetch threw a pizza party in the building and met with tenants, but was ultimately unsuccessful in winning over the hearts and minds of residents.
“Best of luck trying to send them packing,” u/mprover, the author of the post, wrote. “I would suggest putting as much pressure on your management and Fetch as possible.”
The conflict between whoever manages packages — in-house teams or third parties like Fetch — is only set to grow. Despite scorching hot demand for e-commerce cooling slightly this year, parcel carriers are building in long-term capacity as some pandemic purchasing habits appear likely to be permanent.
For now, Fetch is optimistic it will be able to meet that long-term demand.
“We know that eCommerce is increasing at an alarming rate and doesn’t show signs of stopping,” Patton said. “Package management should not be the responsibility of the on-site teams. We remove that responsibility while offering a way for apartment operators to gain on-site efficiencies, improve their customer service and increase net operating income.”