Easing the parcel pain

Easing the parcel pain

The overall cost of the university experience – from tuition to cost of living to loan repayments – can at times seem to follow an endless upward trajectory, despite Government initiatives. So it’s little wonder students expect a lot for their money. As facilities managers (FMs) know all too well, this expectation is ramping up pressure to provide a great experience on campus; from providing hubs for socialising and activities, to ensuring a pleasant environment for learning and living.

One key task – and time sink – is processing parcels sent to students. In the not-too-distant past, students would receive a parcel once in a blue moon. But habits have transformed, with the occasional book order or food parcel from home replaced by daily deliveries for many. The pandemic and rise in online shopping mean Royal Mail alone highlighted a 31% increase in domestic parcel deliveries, including to student accommodation, with campuses reporting hundreds of deliveries a day.

Cracks in the system

As students increasingly opt for the convenience of home delivery, university staff have been overwhelmed by stacks of parcels. Receiving and storing such a high volume of deliveries means multiple, time-consuming manual tasks for staff. This includes signing for and recording deliveries, storing parcels in a safe space, and retrieving parcels when students come to collect them. On average, these processes take a total of four minutes per parcel. Superficially a small number, but with hundreds of deliveries a day it soon adds up to hours of extra work.

From a student perspective, cracks inevitably appear in the system. What if students want access to their delivery, but reception is closed? What if a delay in picking up a delivery means missing urgent items? And what if other student services are impacted because staff have to spend their time and energy managing parcels? Things can’t go on like this. But at the same time, most universities don’t have the resources, staff, or space to massively expand parcel collection and delivery.

Smart parcel lockers as the solution

Clearly parcel rooms need to evolve, but delivering direct to student accommodation isn’t the answer. These deliveries add to road and foot traffic throughout a campus, and raise the risk of parcel theft. Recent police data revealed “porch pirates” were most likely to steal parcels from 9am to 5pm – core hours for students to be in lectures or the library.

Instead, campuses need a third way: smart parcel lockers. These lockers enable collection from a single, secure location that can only be accessed by the individual courier and student. Rather than handing items to reception staff, carriers place them directly in a smart locker, which students can access using a code sent by email or SMS.. Carrier-agnostic lockers can be used by any delivery company, giving a comprehensive solution to avoid space issues that could come with different sets of lockers serving different logistics providers.

From a student’s point of view this means they can pick up their parcels whenever convenient, instead of having to schedule collection around their academic, social, and work lives. Automated delivery notifications let students know exactly when items have arrived, wherever they are. And enhanced security – from passcode and barcode access to inbuilt video surveillance – helps ward off potential thieves.

This leaves FMs and staff time to focus on other core activities. They will no longer need to worry about complaints to reception from students missing delivery notifications or reporting lost items, or from confused couriers trying to track down individual students’ residences. And by choosing the right location or locations, universities can use smart lockers to create or improve hubs for students to meet and socialise.

The benefits of parcel lockers are clear for both FMs and students. Universities have already been taking advantage of these benefits – with Staffordshire University a prime example.

A success story from Staffordshire University

Staffordshire University has been reaping the rewards from parcel lockers since 2020. The university has smart locker hubs installed in its two student accommodation blocks, which commonly see around 100 parcel deliveries each day. 112 lockers of various sizes, to match different packages, serve 1,200 student rooms. 

The success of the university’s locker installation has been felt by staff and students. Staff have been able to eliminate many of the manual processes around parcel delivery, such as using paper slips posted in student pigeonholes to notify of a delivery. Instead, the entire process has been automated with delivery notifications sent straight to the parcel recipient.

As a result, staff have saved six hours each day, which they can instead dedicate to other activities that boost students’ wellbeing. Rhys Stevens, Accommodation Officer at Staffordshire University, was been delighted with the installation of the lockers across campus, stating: ‘…they are simple to use, have improved the student and staff experience, and help us turn parcels around quickly. It’s been a great result’. 

Delivering for students and staff

Universities must evolve to meet the needs of new generations of students. Today’s generation is eager to shop online, and even arrange monthly subscriptions for particularly popular goods. Installing smart parcel lockers across campuses frees up university staff to concentrate on improving the student experience, while creating a more convenient service for students themselves. The University of Staffordshire is just one example of this success, but it is far from the last.

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