Spaces4Learning | Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Intelligent Parcel Lockers Streamline the Campus Mailroom
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Written by: Christopher O’Brien
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It’s the first day of the fall term and students are lined up in the university quad. They’re not waiting for their favorite band to play and there are no celebrities visiting campus. These students are lined up outside the mail center, housing office, or bookstore to pick up their packages.
This scene is playing out on the 4,000 college campuses across the country and it’s become the new normal on many of those campuses. The popularity of free or rapid shipping and the rise of e-commerce have led to an explosion of package deliveries on campuses over the past five years. The on-demand availability of package delivery means that the holidays are no longer peak shipping season. Instead, package delivery is a 365-day operation. In another sign of changing times, students no longer roll up to their dorms with U-Hauls at the start of the school year. They’re buying their bedding and other dorm essentials online and having everything shipped to campus.
Delivery isn’t limited to dorm supplies, either. More college bookstores are partnering with online publishers to ship textbooks to students. With the introduction of online pharmacy services, students are even having their prescriptions shipped to campus. Some of these items, particularly prescriptions, are time-sensitive or require refrigeration or other special handling. In these cases, timely, accurate package delivery can make or break a student’s college experience.
When Things Don’t Go as Planned
In this era of Snapchat and Instagram, bad news travels fast when things don’t go as planned. When packages weren’t being scanned properly at a Midwestern college, parents took to Facebook to complain and flooded the university president’s office with phone calls and letters to demand a solution.
The Midwestern college incident illustrates the challenges that package delivery presents to higher-ed institutions. Campus mailrooms were designed for 70 percent of the volume to be mail and 30 percent packages. Now, that has been reversed. The dramatic rise in package deliveries is straining storage, security and campus staffing and many colleges lack the budget to add more personnel. For students, long wait times, lost or damaged packages and staffing shortages can erode the college experience and impact academic performance. A change is needed.
While the boom in package delivery can sabotage the student experience, it also presents colleges and universities with an opportunity to elevate the quality of campus life and attract prospective students.
Streamlining the Backlog
For colleges seeking a secure, convenient package delivery solution, installing intelligent parcel lockers offers an affordable, efficient option. Parcel lockers provide 365/24/7 availability for on-the-go students and require minimal staffing. Up to 80 percent of packages can be delivered directly to parcel lockers, freeing mailroom staff to process the small percentage of shipments that require special handling due to accessibility compliance, storage requirements, and to accommodate students who have opted out of locker delivery.
Only 6 percent of colleges and universities with more than 2,000 students currently have deployed parcel lockers, but experts predict that figure will double in the next year. If you’re thinking about adding parcel lockers to your package delivery system, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Choose a direct supplier of parcel lockers, one that controls the features and development of the lockers. Avoid those that are brokering or partnering with a locker company as they may change suppliers, limiting support and enhancements down the road.
- Establish a 48-hour window for retrieving packages from lockers and notify students of this requirement. The optimal time between package drop off and pick-up is six hours, but experience shows some packages can remain in lockers for up to 45 days! Imposing a 48-hour pick-up window ensures that lockers are available even during peak delivery hours and keeps the investment costs down.
- Verify that the locker vendor has relationships with the carriers to assist in loading the lockers, minimizing the need for campus staff to do it. Five years ago, carriers were reluctant to load parcel lockers and USPS doesn’t currently offer this service. However, as the delivery industry becomes increasingly competitive, carriers are more willing to work with campuses as a differentiator. The USPS is expected to change its existing policy within the next 12 months.
- Make sure the locker system can be integrated with your current package tracking software system or comes with an integrated system. This way all packages, whether in a locker or stored behind the counter, can utilize one system to track all package movements.
- Install lockers with a variety of configurations. Mixing 50 percent small lockers with 50 percent of varying sizes works well for many campuses.
- Tap your auxiliary services budget to fund parcel lockers. Because student experience is tied to recruitment, funding parcel lockers through auxiliary services is an easier sell than increasing housing or mailroom spending.
- Offer parcel lockers for pickup as a complimentary service and reserve for-fee charges for outbound shipping and other premium services. Free pickup from parcel lockers is a sound investment because it creates good will among students and reduces staffing needs.
- Consider offering lockers from off-campus housing for a fee. This may generate recurring revenue to support staff.
- Select a parcel locker system that collects data on delivery and pickup times. Having analytics on peak use periods will help you staff accordingly and saves money in the long run.
- Ask about refrigerated lockers for medication and include notification for time-sensitive pickups.
Selecting a Vendor
Finding the right partner is critical to the successful implementation of on-campus parcel lockers. When selecting a vendor, look for a company that can help you optimize your current package delivery system. During the vetting process, vendors should be asking questions about your institution’s demographics. Are you a public or private institution? What is the size of your campus and student population? Do you have any special arrangements with preferred carriers?
Having this information will enable you to evaluate locker systems on equivalent campuses and better identify your campus needs, including how many lockers to install or whether to adopt centralized or decentralized locker locations. In many cases, smaller institutions find that centralized delivery works well, while larger campuses may need decentralized locker distribution. Some colleges and universities choose locations that drive student traffic to the bookstore or dining halls. Other things to look for include full chain-of-custody tracking and monitoring capabilities, theft-proof lockers, instant email and text notification alerts, and customizable locker configurations. Making sure lockers are ADA compliant is also important as certain students with disabilities might not be able to access lockers at certain heights.
Evolving technology and changing economics are transforming college campuses. With parents and students demanding more for their tuition dollars, higher ed must offer a package delivery system that is convenient, reliable, and secure. Adding parcel lockers to your package delivery system can place your campus ahead of the curve when it comes to the college experience.