Rise in online shopping adds pressure to university campus mailrooms

Ryan Higginson, Vice President & UK/ROI Country Leader at Pitney Bowes, discusses how to prepare your university mailroom

Retailers and consumers are gearing up for their busiest time of the year. Black Friday falls on 29 November and, if 2018’s figures are anything to go by, it’s going to be huge. Online retailers, in particular, saw sales spike in the annual shopping phenomenon. One report states that, last year,  consumers in the UK bought 100,000 toys and 60,000 beauty items on Amazon by mid-morning alone.

For university campuses managing high volumes of incoming shipments, this presents a challenge as – according to the Pitney Bowes Online Shopping Study 2019 – millennials have the highest online purchase frequency of all the generations surveyed: 37% shop daily or weekly online compared with 28% across the rest of the study. The result? More and more parcels coming into campus mailrooms, with staff under pressure to deliver these packages swiftly and efficiently.

Almost a quarter of UK online shoppers buy something from an overseas retailer or marketplace every month

To demonstrate and understand the scale of growth across the parcel industry, Pitney Bowes studied parcel market data from 13 major markets, representing 3.7 billion people in the US, Canada, Brazil, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, China, Japan, Australia and India. Annually, for the past five years, we’ve drawn this data together in the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index, which has become an industry benchmark. We’ve also used the data to create forecasts.

Parcel volume to reach 200 billion by 2025

The latest Parcel Shipping Index closely reflects changing consumer behaviours, in particular the impact of emerging ecommerce markets such as India and Brazil on the industry. In the 13 major markets studied, an average of 2,760 parcels were shipped per second – up from 2,300 the previous year. The Index also demonstrates the continued domination of China on the parcel shipping market and forecasts that global parcel volume will reach 200 billion by 2025. Increasingly, consumers are happily shopping cross-border. Almost a quarter of UK online shoppers buy something from an overseas retailer or marketplace every month.

Escalating parcel volumes present a challenge for overburdened mailrooms

In the UK specifically, 3.5 billion parcels were generated in 2018. This equates to an average of 53 parcels shipped per person, an increase of 12% from the previous year (48) – that’s 111 parcels shipped per second.

These escalating parcel volumes present a challenge for overburdened mailrooms, buried under piles of incoming parcels. Universities and higher education campuses must handle vast amounts of incoming packages. They must prepare for peak season, without generating unnecessary spend on additional resources. This is a major challenge – but sophisticated technology is making life a lot easier for them.

Streamlining parcel receipt, tracking and delivery with technology

The University of Bath manages incoming parcels for over 3,000 students that live on campus. With the responsibility falling on the university’s mailroom to make sure the right parcel reaches the right student within the expected timeframe, the university turned to Sendsuite receiving and tracking technology to transform its parcel management.

The technology streamlines, automates and simplifies processes. It eliminates the need to manually log parcels, as mailroom operators simply scan packages as they arrive. Alerts and notifications are automated and sent to students’ mobiles, and both students and operators know exactly where their parcels are. Handheld devices capture and store electronic signatures at the point of collection, again removing the need to manually sign printed documentation and providing real-time tracking information.

Other universities are turning to intelligent lockers to help them – literally – deliver the goods. Robust lockers with touch screen technology provide secure physical storage in convenient locations, while built-in package tracking platforms add an extra layer of security and visibility. These platforms streamline the logging, tracking and managing of incoming packages, sending notifications, parcel location details and secure digital passcodes or barcodes to recipients’ mobiles. When recipients arrive at the lockers to collect their packages, they sign in on the locker’s touch screen and a camera takes their photo. Accurate chain of custody tracking keeps mailroom managers updated in real-time and provides organisations with reliable performance measures.

Four ways mailrooms must prepare for the future

Thankfully, as the above examples demonstrate, advances in technology help improve productivity, drive down costs and eliminate the uncontrollable mountain of parcels. To summarise, university mailrooms can prepare for the influx in parcel volume in four key ways:

  • By maximising mobility: 95% of 16-25 year-olds in the UK own a smartphone, so it makes absolute sense to maximise this by implementing a system which sends alerts and notifications via email or SMS direct to students’ devices. Advances in mobility help mailroom operators’ efficiency, too: portable handheld devices help them get out and about without the need to carry reams of paperwork.
  • By automating manual processes: replacing manual systems is one of the fastest routes to productivity. Slick, streamlined operations simplify mail management and accelerate productivity.
  • By identifying cost savings: mailrooms run the risk of costs escalating, along with the surge in parcel numbers. Taking steps to identify, ringfence and eliminate unnecessary costs, duplication of work or inefficiencies can make a real difference.
  • Through innovation: today’s smart mailrooms are thinking differently, benefiting from connected technologies, cloud-based platforms and deep analytics. Every organisation needs to know exactly what’s coming into, and out of, its operations. Gaining transparency on incoming parcels and their journeys using smart tracking techniques provides this insight.

However much students choose to shop online, these strategies for university mailrooms will help them build a strong, sustainable foundation for the future.

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