Package Problems Expected to Soar with Explosion of Online Shopping

Online sales topped $300 billion last year and are expected to reach $523 billion in the next few years. This spike in online purchasing will most certainly result in an onslaught of packages for multifamily operators this holiday season.

Sun_Joe GreenblattThe increase in apartment living and boom in internet shopping are converging–burying landlords in a mountain of packages.

Online sales topped $300 billion last year and are expected to reach $523 billion in the next few years. This spike in online purchasing will most certainly result in an onslaught of packages for multifamily operators this holiday season.

The growing glut of packages has many in the multifamily industry searching for efficient solutions. Deluged by the mounting numbers of packages, landlords must take time to receive and sign for the parcels, catalogue and safely store them, then track down residents for pickup and not lose track of the parcels along the way. All of this while maintaining their other duties. These challenges will continue to worsen as the popularity of internet shopping surges.

Different landlords tackle the issue in various ways, but one thing is certain: owners and managers must evolve and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of residents, the capacity of their onsite staff and the physical limitations of their rental offices.

As the holidays near, multifamily operators’ first concern should be to prepare for the deluge of packages that is inevitably coming. It will be bigger than ever before and most are likely unprepared for it. Questions to consider: Do we have enough secure space? Do we have a system for tracking receipt and disbursement of packages for our residents? Do we have adequate staff in our budget, available and scheduled to do the work? Many multifamily communities come up short in all three of these areas.

While it may be too late in this season for some, multifamily operators should consider adapting new, forward thinking solutions to this growing dilemma for the long term.

Solutions range from simply not accepting packages–which means angering or losing residents–to investing in one of the growing number of automated package handling systems on the market. Other less high tech options may include allowing residents access to a package room or even staffing a seasonal concierge to make sure residents get their parcels.

The newest automated packaging solutions all rely, to some degree, on onsite “package lockers” in which the delivery person leaves the package in a locker–which can be placed at easily accessible common areas of multifamily properties–and residents receive a code via text or email to retrieve it. In most cases, this process excuses management from the process as delivery services check in an item, secure it, and residents are automatically notified when a package has arrived. While such systems are efficient, they require significant planning and capital outlay.

On the upside, in most cases they provide valuable 24/7 access for residents to their packages. And in some cases they provide ancillary income–a tangible return on investment for property owners, who decide how long a locker will hold a package before charging fees and when and how much to charge the resident for the service.

In every case, these systems relieve the staff of an often ignored and growing burden: a deluge of packages resulting in hours and hours of physical labor. Properly implemented, they allow the site team (without additional staffing outlays) to stay on task, avoid potential workers’ comp injuries and support resident service and satisfaction. As automated package handling systems are increasingly purchased and implemented, they will be at first points of differentiation for residents; a meaningful benefit that will attract and retain them. Eventually they may become another resident expectation/standard amenity.

It is easy to ignore or fail to recognize this sea change in consumer behavior and expectations. Multifamily owners and operators, however, are starting to recognize the depth and importance of emerging issues surrounding package handling. The potential for unhappy residents, who during the holiday season may be unable to conveniently take delivery of their packages, is high. The specter of unsecured packages overflowing out of package storage rooms and into leasing centers, hallways and other common areas–and all of the attendant risks and problems–looms as the holidays approach.

The failure to anticipate the immense volume of work and the pressure put on management teams is perhaps the greatest risk.

As we work through this holiday season, landlords will be forced to confront the evolving package handling and storage needs of residents in an e-commerce world. Preparation and foresight are critical–and the key to happy residents.

Joe Greenblatt is president and CEO of San Diego-based Sunrise Management, which has specialized in the management of residential real estate since 1978.