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Are There Smarter Ways for Universities to Master the Parcel Delivery Challenge on Campus?

Are there smarter ways to master the parcel delivery challenge on campus?

Parcel deliveries to campuses have become overwhelming. Campus offices report hundreds of parcels a day, with overflow in borrowed spaces: behind reception desks, in store cupboards, and even piled up along corridors.

It’s not surprising, considering Ofcom reports a 17% increase in parcel volumes compared to pre-pandemic times, and Royal Mail’s annual report reveals a 31% hike in domestic parcel deliveries – including to student accommodation. 

The student population isn’t going to stop online shopping for everything from clothes to course books, to computers – so the pressure on campus facilities can only increase. Something has to give.  

Why are campus facilities under pressure?

Campus delivery processes were designed to handle paper mail and small numbers of parcels. The surge of daily parcels represents a completely new challenge. 

First, there is the issue of space. Expanding an existing mailroom or creating a new parcel room often isn’t a viable option, especially in buildings with limited space. As Suzanne Cantelo, Head of Residential Services at Queen Mary University of London whose Mile End campus houses 1,800 students across 17 buildings, says: “Building a post room would require staffing and internal space that we simply don’t have available.”

Second, as Suzanne mentioned, is the time and resource needed to manually process parcels. Staff need to halt whatever they are doing to handle incoming deliveries. It takes on average four minutes per package to manually receive, log, store and inform the recipient – not including the time to distribute. With hundreds of parcels a day, simply processing parcels equates to at least one full-time role. 

Finally, there is convenience. Student schedules rarely align with a standard 9-5, yet they can often only collect parcels during staff working hours. The result is queues at peak times such as lunchtime and end of day, when students just want to grab their package and go. 

Why doesn’t delivering directly to students solve the problem? 

Direct delivery to student accommodation might reduce pressure on mailrooms, but it creates other significant issues. Hundreds of parcel deliveries a day from multiple couriers will represent a huge increase in vehicle and foot traffic that presents safety, security, and environmental concerns. For instance, are campuses prepared to accommodate delivery vehicles mixing with pedestrians? And with multiple entrances, how do campuses track outside visitors? 

There’s also no guarantee it will be more convenient for students who won’t always be home at delivery time. Attempted re-deliveries simply add to traffic; packages left in hallways or entrances create tripping and fire hazards; and parcels left outside are at risk of theft.

Direct delivery also opens entirely new concerns around student well-being and safety, which should always be top of the university’s priorities. Many students will be understandably concerned about strangers having easy access to their accommodation. Not necessarily couriers themselves, but others who might impersonate a courier, or take advantage of an opened door to “slipstream” into the building. 

So, what is a smart solution to the parcel problem?

Smart parcel lockers provide the safety and convenience that students and staff need. They enable delivery and collection from a single, secure location and fully automate the process. 

Parcel lockers’ modular design and robust construction mean they can be installed anywhere on campus, inside or outside, regardless of whether there is room for mailroom expansion. Multiple locker points can be placed in accessible locations for maximum convenience. Automation and 24/7 operation remove pressure on mailroom staff and allow complete self-service. For instance, when a parcel is delivered into a smart locker the student is automatically notified with a unique PIN or barcode to access their delivery, allowing for a fully self-service operation.

Queen Mary University of London installed its first lockers at its Mile End campus in February 2023. And at the University of Northampton, with 3,000 students across four student accommodation sites, installing 144 lockers had an immediate impact. Michelle Chodyniecki, Head of Facilities Services, says: “We realised students want to collect their items 24/7. Under the old system, staff would leave a note in students’ letter lockers to advise them they had a parcel to collect but collections could be inconvenient because they were restricted by opening hours.”

Placing university lockers in highly trafficked areas, close to other amenities and near a site entrance improves security, sustainability and convenience. It reduces traffic across campus and reassures students worried about strangers accessing their accommodation. Lockers prevent parcel build up, and offer a safe, convenient space for collection that reduces the chance of missed, lost or stolen parcels.

Finally, couriers also benefit. They are often paid by the parcel, so find making one delivery to a single location and knowing all parcels will be collected much easier than attempting multiple deliveries across an entire campus.

The answer

Smart parcel lockers make campuses smarter, safer spaces. By understanding the challenges of parcel delivery, investigating the options, and showing staff, students and couriers how a smart locker system will change their experience, institutions such as Queen Mary University of London, the University of Northampton, and Staffordshire University have already experienced smart lockers’ benefits. The last word goes to Suzanne Cantelo: “A new project can be challenging, but fast uptake, an enthusiastic response, and ultimately a more pleasant environment on campus make it all worthwhile.”

For more information about how universities can provide secure, easy access, contact-free package deliveries for students and faculty, click here

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Jon Hammond Head of Real Estate and Higher Education, Parcel Locker Solution Sales

Parcel Pending by Quadient UK & Ireland