Package Management and the Pandemic

by Katie Sloan

For student housing owners and operators, the challenge of efficiently managing package delivery is nothing new. The number of students utilizing e-commerce for their shopping needs has grown steadily over the last few years. But as with many facets of the industry, the COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges to package delivery, as students have begun ordering everything from food to clothing and other basic needs online both due to ease of use and in pursuit of greater social distancing. With a larger number of packages coming in daily and staffing numbers constrained due to the pandemic, owners and operators are seeking solutions to help efficiently and safely provide students with their packages. 

Two of the most popular methods for managing packages are locker systems and automated package rooms. With both offerings, mail carriers are able to securely place packages for individual pick-up, allowing for contactless retrieval at the resident’s convenience. “We’re seeing student housing properties add in a combination of both package lockers and package rooms,” says Donna Logback, head of marketing for Package Concierge. “We estimate that roughly 15 percent of a residence hall or off-campus property’s student population is going to receive one package per-day. That’s why a combination of lockers and package rooms makes sense — both in terms of handling the volume and size of packages received.”

At Campus Advantage, the preferred system is an automated package room. “We have found that package rooms work much better for us than the package locker systems because you can house packages of all sizes in those rooms without constraint,” says Katy Smerko, vice president at Campus Advantage. “With a locker system, packages have to be a certain size to fit. When students are moving in and getting different items for their apartments shipped to them, the packages can be very large. If we have the space available, adding in a package room is typically one of the first capital infusions we will make.”

“In student housing, we always had this view that handing out packages was a way to get in touch with residents, but we’ve found that giving them the ease of being able to pick up their packages whenever they want is something that they value and we’re still having those interactions, just in different ways,” continues Smerko. “I think a lot of communities are going to move to lower-contact package systems. Residents are going to continue to buy more and more online, and we’re going to have to adapt to the sheer number of packages that come in.”

While package management solutions allow for greater ease of access for residents, they also cut down on the package-related workload for staff members, allowing greater focus on other property needs. “Time is money,” says Sneha Lakkaraju, digital marketing director at Notifii. “Package solutions streamline operations for a repetitive and tedious task. Organize your package room effectively and you can cut down the time it takes for packages to be delivered by 60 percent.”

COVID-19 Impact

While the number of package deliveries at student housing communities was already on the rise, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for efficient and safe package pick-up for residents. 

“Package volumes are increasing exponentially year over year,” says Lakkaraju. “At the start of the stay-at-home order, package volumes increased another 30 percent over the annual increase. We see carriers on the news everyday struggling to keep up with shipping volume. For the sake of security and peace of mind in communities and colleges, package management has to be addressed, and it needs to account for social distancing.”

As shipping volume has increased, so has the need for greater package management at communities across the country. “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a rush to find solutions for daily mail management hurdles in an environment of rapidly closing leasing offices, refused package acceptance and essential worker protocols, while mail and packages continued six days per week,” says Craig Meddin, founder and CEO of Postal Solutions. “In response, we have been experiencing heightened interest in our products and services since May. Our clients across the U.S. have been actively seeking package solutions allowing for 24/7 self-pick-up by residents in an effort to limit direct social interaction with management staff.”

Locker Solutions — the company’s package solutions division — reported a 40 percent year-over-year increase in package volume during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. “With leasing office doors closed and online shopping spiking, interest in package management solutions is up,” continues Meddin.

“There has been a rush by owners and operators to find indoor and outdoor contactless package delivery and pick-up solutions, in addition to app-based options,” continues Meddin. “We launched an all-weather, outdoor package room kiosk in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which allows owners and operators to install a cost-effective, 24/7 package pick-up solution using any ADA-accessible exterior door and room — like a space previously used for laundry, maintenance or tanning beds — and convert it into a controlled-access monitored package room with surveillance.”

The importance of finding contactless solutions for package management was also noted by Campus Advantage’s Smerko. “With COVID-19, the less contact we can have physically with both the packages and the resident, the better,” she says. “Students have been ordering exponentially more than they had in the past and we have had to adapt.”

At the company’s properties that don’t offer package lockers or a package storage room, new methods of social distancing have been implemented in order to decrease risk. “We’ve figured out systems in our properties that don’t offer package lockers or a package room where our staff will place a resident’s packages on a table and walk away, then students can come in and pick up their belongings,” continues Smerko.

“Package solutions are quickly becoming not just an amenity but an expectation, just as fitness centers and swimming pools have become, and the COVID-19 pandemic has really accelerated that need,” echoed Logback. “Over the summer, there has been a lot of exploration by universities and owners and operators of student housing on ways to make package management more contactless and efficient.”

While placing package solutions in the same amenity ballpark as fitness centers and swimming pools might have seemed a bit premature in previous years, it seems particularly apt in today’s environment, where much of campus life will be largely driven by social distancing and enhanced personal safety.

— Katie Sloan

This article was originally published in the July/August issue of Student Housing Business magazine.

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