How Smart Lockers are Making Package Delivery Easier
The holiday package rush in the past few years has grown to such proportions that one amenity that many apartments typically provide residents is becoming difficult to manage.
An improving economy is no doubt a reason why the nation’s leading parcel services anticipate delivering about 10 million more packages during the holiday season.
The idea of handling the nearly 900 million parcels that companies forecast for delivery in December would send Santa and his elves to the medicine cabinet. And maybe a few apartment managers, too.
The expected boost in packages is enough that 145,000 seasonal workers will be added at United Parcel Service and FedEx, plus another 80,000 at Amazon.
A few years ago, apartments began holding and storing parcel deliveries for residents as a free perk that usually involved minimal effort by apartment staff. However, that benefit has become an expectation.
What started out as apartments handling two or three packages a day about seven years ago has grown to about 100 per week, according to a National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and Kingsley Associates 2014 Package Delivery Survey. That number can easily double during the holidays – last year consumers spent $2.3 billion on Cyber Monday alone.
Apartments, however, are struggling to find a balance between devoting enough space, time and money to support a growing amenity demand by residents.
“Residents rank a package delivery holding area as the second most popular amenity behind fitness centers, so there’s a huge incentive for apartment community managers to wrangle the volume of deliveries,” said Rick Haughey, NMHC Vice President of Industry Technology Initiatives. “A lot has to happen behind the scenes to make sure the package gets from the delivery truck to the resident’s home.”
Increase of packages is taxing manual tracking systems
Kobi Bensimon, vice president of portals for Active Building, says some apartments are simply discontinuing the service because it’s been a drain on staff and resources. Keeping up with manual logs for tracking packages and pickup by residents has required more time as package providers make more frequent trips.
Also, leaving packages at residents’ doors can be an indication the apartment isn’t occupied, which can be an open invitation for theft. In 77 percent of apartment buildings surveyed, package carriers will try to deliver to the door first versus going straight to the management office. If the resident isn’t home, package carriers take it to the management office 70 percent of the time – leading to a huge volume of packages for the community manager to handle.
“Needless to say, apartments didn’t anticipate the rapid growth of people shopping online,” Bensimon said. It used to be you got a couple of envelopes a day and you put them inside the front desk.”
The additional volume essentially means that the front office has become a scaled down post office, and is complicated by residents who can’t pick up packages during normal business hours.
“Many apartments are starting to think the parcel services should pay because they are offloading the part that takes the most time, getting the package to the customer,” Bensimon said. “They show up, drop the packages and the apartment is stuck with the job of getting it to the resident. Apartments want to change that.”
Package locker systems beginning to emerge at apartments
One in four apartment communities use specialized software just to manage residents’ packages on-site, but more are looking for a hands-free option.
“When you receive 200 or 300 packages a week, it puts tremendous pressure on the staff to manage the influx of deliveries,” Haughey said. “With 90 percent of retail sales still taking place in brick and mortar buildings, we’re only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of e-commerce,” said Haughey. “Online shopping and technologies like instant streaming put the control in the consumers’ hands. Moving forward, we’ll see more use of technology and automation that not only manages the volume, but gives the residents flexibility.
Gables Residential Executive Vice President Cristina Sullivan was a panelist at November’s NMHC Op Tech Conference in Orlando and said her company has begun experimenting with a hands-off locker system purchased for a new building at Gables Ponce in Miami, Florida. Until now, Gables properties have relied on proprietary software that requires some staff to keep track of resident package deliveries.
The new system at Gables Ponce is completely hands-off and is generating positive feedback. Initially, package agents who were used to dropping off packages and quickly resuming their routes pushed back because parcels have to be sorted and placed in lockers. However, delivery personnel have since adjusted and packages come and go seamlessly for the property.
“It’s been a very good experience,” Sullivan said. “Once we managed through that transition with the carriers, the staff has embraced it and the residents appreciate it because they can access their lockers 24/7.”
Locker technology can be more hands-off
Locker technology continues to advance as more automated and streamlined package storage systems are being developed, Bensimon said. An intuitive locker-type system that enables shippers to drop packages and residents to pick them up without staff intervention is being tested in some markets.
New technology, says Bensimon, enables delivery and pickup to be handled online. The shipping company assigns a locker, scans the barcode and leaves the package in a secure space. An email or text notifies the resident of delivery, and sends them a locker number and code to access the package at any time.
“They’re ‘Smart’ lockers,” he said. “Unlike gym lockers where every person is assigned the block, you can share a locker with five to eight units. The system knows which compartment is empty and will randomly assign the locker so that resident can use a unique code to get the package.”
Taking the ‘post office’ out of the front office
The locker, which is about the size of a gym locker, can fit eight packages of various sizes in one column. Locker columns can be stacked, requiring 40 percent less space than systems currently on the market. Systems are designed to fit in community and mail areas.
The bottom line is it’s a win-win for the property and shipping company, Bensimon says.
“Right now it’s a time-consuming process. Without any type of storage system it means people usually don’t pick up packages as quickly as they could. With this technology, people can pick up packages faster and the office doesn’t need as much storage space.”
Now, that might add some relief to the apartment community.
And Santa, too.