Most college mail centers were built well before e-commerce existed. Original construction plans didn’t anticipate the impact that a surge in packages would have on their limited space and staff resources as students and faculty turned to online shopping.
The increased parcel volume makes the traditional methods of dealing with incoming packages impractical. Besides a severe storage space issue, manual procedures are inefficient. Mail center staff must send notifications to package recipients via printed alerts or emails and make them wait in line while mailroom clerks find packages, examine ID, and gather signatures. Anxious students waiting for online-purchased books to arrive often visit the mail center repeatedly, hoping their order arrives before the new term begins. Extra people standing around waiting to be served also contribute to the floor space issue.
Students order books, dorm room furnishings, clothes, and electronics. They receive care packages from home. Faculty and staff receive many items such as supplies and materials that arrive via the US Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, Amazon, or other delivery services. All those packages come to the campus mailroom where the staff logs the materials, sorts, and stores them until campus couriers can deliver the items or they are picked up.
Students aren’t just buying discounted books online, they are selling them. College mail centers are also seeing an increase in outbound parcels. Again, space and staff resources are a problem.
Inefficient Handling Compounds the Problem
When addressees come to retrieve their items, clerks must find the boxes, bring them to the counter, and hand them over. Items that can’t be immediately located trigger a lengthy and expensive treasure hunt and leads to dissatisfied customers. Because of crowded conditions, the mail center has become a dangerous workplace littered with tall stacks of parcels and narrow spaces in which to operate. Manual logging and tracking procedures cause delays and limit inquiries because physical access to the paper log sheets is necessary.
Distance learning and interrupted on-campus class schedules caused by the pandemic have made the problems even worse. Packages may sit in mail centers for long periods of time before the recipients come to campus to collect them. Some packages that are initially delivered to the campus mail center may need to be re-shipped to home addresses. Admission and departmental mail stacks up too, waiting for university staff to return to their offices.
Automation is the Answer
The first step in tackling the parcel problem is implementing a parcel induction system. Automated systems record the arrival of packages and enable the university mail center to notify recipients electronically, so they can pick up their parcels. Because floor space is usually limited, a small and portable mail induction unit is an ideal solution. Once the system records parcel arrivals, the mail center can easily track their movement and disposition by scanning barcodes instead of completing paper log forms. Information is then immediately available to mail center staff working at satellite offices, couriers on their mail routes, or others scattered about the campus.
Tritek Technologies’ Mobile Ace Work Station solves the package induction and logging issue for many college mail centers. The compact size and portability (it’s on wheels!) make it an ideal solution for institutions cramped for space.
Smart Lockers – A Perfect Solution for Campuses
Many college campuses have turned to smart lockers to relieve the pressure caused by so many packages and parcels. Combined with an inbound induction and tracking system, smart lockers solve many of the problems encountered by university mail room staff today. Smart lockers can be located throughout the campus or installed at a central site, but in accessible areas. Parcels no longer spend days locked in a storage room behind the mail center counter, and addressees can pick up their items at their convenience, twenty-four hours a day. No-contact package deliveries enhance staff and student safety.
Mail room employees can deliver online orders, interdepartmental packages, or deliveries from home to secure smart lockers. Once delivered to a locker, mail room staff knows the packages will stay there until collected by the rightful recipients. No more chain of custody questions! Lockers come with compartments in various sizes and include automatic notification via text or email.
With students and faculty spending less time on campus because of social distancing guidelines, smart lockers make even more sense. The mail center operating hours will no longer limit the ability to deliver packages promptly.
Time to Update the Mail Center
Affordable technology that is available today can help campus mail centers handle the influx of parcels more efficiently without expanding physical space or hiring more staff. Tech-savvy students and university personnel will appreciate the transparency, security, and service improvements that mail centers can offer by adding modern tools to their operation.