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While online shopping has become the norm for apartment renters—purchasing tires, mattresses, rugs, and even goldfish for delivery—the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the volume of packages arriving daily at multifamily communities across the nation. Looking ahead to the holiday shopping season and beyond, that volume is not expected to slow down.

“We jokingly say it’s Black Friday everyday right now,” says Donna Logback, head of marketing at Package Concierge. “These sustained levels have been greater than holiday levels since the pandemic began.”

Package Concierge, a provider of automated locker solutions for multifamily communities, reported processing nearly 7 million package transactions during the height of stay-at-home orders from March 15 through May 23, a 31% year-over-year increase. Its weekly average exceeded 600,000 transactions, which was higher than the average weekly package volume processed during the 2019 holiday shopping season.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual consumer holiday survey, a majority of holiday shoppers surveyed, 59%, plan to shift more of their purchasing online compared with last year.

“COVID has really changed the face of how people shop,” says Lori Torres, CEO of Parcel Pending, another firm that specializes in package management solutions. “We are seeing that the number of packages coming to apartment communities is up by as much as 81% since COVID.”

Fetch, an off-site package solution for multifamily communities, predicts that the onslaught of packages will be a lasting effect of the pandemic.

Among the multifamily communities served by Fetch, year-over-year package numbers increased by 39% in March and 48% in April, but then skyrocketed 58% in May and 63% in June. The average monthly package volume per apartment home for active Fetch users topped 10 packages in May, which was up from 6.34 packages the prior year and the holiday season average of 9.05 in December 2019.

Looking forward, Fetch, which anticipates delivering approximately 2.7 million packages this year, expects the average monthly package rate to inch down to 8.19 packages per apartment home in 2021, before climbing to 9.41 in 2022 and 10.65 in 2023. Using growth projections including expected new customers, the company is forecasting to deliver over 8.7 million packages by the end of 2021.

The package room at Cortland Bryan Place in Dallas.
Courtesy Cortland The package room at Cortland Bryan Place in Dallas.

Package Pain Points

Property managers and owners across the nation have been dealing with challenges around package issues for years. However, this year they are doing so with record-breaking volume during a global pandemic.

According to Avenue5 Residential, a Seattle-based property management firm that serves more than 150,000 residents nationwide, it has faced several pain points in meeting residents’ package delivery needs. These include the substantial increase in volume, lack of dedicated space for storage, tracking difficulties, liability issues, lingering pickup issues, and a rise in items that are oversized or perishable. During the onset of the pandemic, Avenue5 closed leasing offices to protect both on-site staff and residents and had to pivot to new procedures.

For Cortland, with more than 180 multifamily communities nationwide, the Atlanta-based company has learned a lot of lessons around packages since the mid-2010s, when it started to see volume increase and the impact it was having on site teams. According to Jonathan Tucker, executive vice president of operations, there had been two schools of thought for those site teams: Get everyone packages as soon as possible or take the time to make every interaction a meaningful one by asking about their homes and lives.

“Once we had our hands around the volume, we realized we needed to do something different,” Tucker says. “Instead of having the time to take care of the community and other important aspects of our residents’ living experience, our team members were spending too much time taking care of packages.”

Woodmont Properties, based in Fairfield, New Jersey, also had some of the same struggles.

Louis DeVos, vice president of property management for the firm, says he has mainly seen two issues for a long time with packages: the increase in volume and matching residents’ and site management’s schedules for pickup or delivery.

Package Concierge has a smart locker series and a room system for multifamily owners.
Courtesy Package Concierge Package Concierge has a smart locker series and a room system for multifamily owners.

Shopping for Solutions

The good news for property managers and owners are the mix of innovative package management solutions in the market—from lockers and package rooms to off-site delivery solutions and smart-home systems. And most of these solutions are low contact for residents and site teams, a benefit and peace of mind during the pandemic.

“What we’re doing is providing an automated and safe, secure solution that handles the crush of packages properties are seeing every day,” says Package Concierge’s Logback. “Package delivery has grown exponentially, and residents now expect there will be some sort of automated solution from which they can retrieve their packages on their own schedule. We recognized that early on and built resident-focused software to make it easy on all the users. This allows property staff to get away from managing packages and focus on the business on hand.”

Package Concierge, which is in just over 2,000 communities, has both a room system as well as a smart locker series, including an outdoor solution for space constraints or to reduce the amount of foot traffic in a building. For the package room, an access control panel with a camera ensures that the flow in and out of the room is captured. Whether for lockers or the package room, residents receive a notification and a code to retrieve their packages at their convenience.

Parcel Pending, which delivers nearly 3 million packages monthly to residential, commercial, retail, and university properties in 48 states and Canada, also features smart lockers and package rooms.

“With our contactless app, you can stand in front of the locker and open it with your phone. The door pops open, and there is absolutely no need to touch or come in contact with any kiosk or touchscreen. It is a true contactless opportunity,” says Torres.

According to Woodmont’s DeVos, the firm, which specializes in Class A luxury communities in the Northeast, started building package rooms and package centers with systems about five years ago. “We found it’s so important to have those, and we have even retrofitted older properties. Our customers are the first reason we did this, but there’s also a huge benefit to our team,” he says.

For Woodmont, which utilizes systems from Parcel Pending and Luxer One, another smart package locker solution, its package rooms are made up of two parts: a traditional automated locker system where building residents can pick up packages 24/7, and a space for oversized packages.

“Everything can be shipped these days,” he says. “Tires, furniture, full-sized rugs don’t fit in lockers. We have built rooms where residents can pick up their oversized packages. That has been one of the biggest successes we have done.”

Cortland has tried out several package locker companies, with some systems inherited with apartment community acquisitions. When it’s building a new community, it now customizes it for a package room with 24-hour access.

Tucker says the benefits are just the sheer convenience for residents—meeting them where they want to be met from the service perspective. However, while the systems provide a lot of benefits to both residents and site teams, property managers and owners must still engage around packages.

“Although package lockers are a newer amenity, you have to be strategic about it,” he says. “When you have a fitness center or a pool, it’s just there and you don’t have to manage the flow with those. With an amenity like package lockers, there’s a new behavior to be learned if you invest in it. But at the end of the day, it provides insight into your residents’ behavior and guides how you can lean in to better serve them.”

As many others, Cortland has seen a continual climb for packages this year. By the end of September, Tucker says Cortland properties had already received 700,000 packages, a 25% to 30% year-over-year increase.

“Some sites have doubled their package volume. It’s a giant lift this year. If this increase is any indication of what’s going to happen during the holidays, it’s going to be a very difficult year for package management,” he says.

Cortland saw a 40% increase in package deliveries last December and is trying to get ahead of the rush. “Without a doubt, all of our package lockers can’t sustain a 40% increase,” he says. “We have to determine the ideal hold times, make sure residents understand they have 24 or 48 hours to pick up, or otherwise we offer to deliver it to their home.”

He encourages site teams to have a proactive approach around packages. “You can’t communicate enough. Residents don’t know how many packages you’re getting; they are only concerned about receiving theirs,” he says. “Stay close to the volume, try to understand when you’ll be at capacity, and reach out to residents so that they can pick up their packages or you can deliver to them.”

Other issues can arise, especially during the busy holiday season, around carriers who are new to routes or not wanting to use the lockers. “We really go in and talk with the couriers to make sure they are following procedures,” says Torres. “We get it resolved.”

Eliminating the Middlemen

Lisa Ellis, division president at Avenue5, says another increasingly popular option it is using is app-based delivery platforms that utilize off-site warehouses for storage and alert residents via app notifications that their packages have arrived at a nearby storage facility.

“We have been increasingly promoting apps that allow residents the option to schedule deliveries at their convenience, in recognition of the fact that they increasingly prefer platforms that allow them to self-serve and take care of tasks within their own time frames,” notes Ellis. “These services reduce or eliminate the need for property storage, remove liability for on-site property teams, and place that liability on the delivery provider, while also allowing residents to create a custom delivery service.”

Fetch is one of the companies that has differentiated itself by being an off-site and scalable solution.

“We cut out the property managers from dealing with packages, but still give residents an amenity,” says Michael Patton, Fetch founder and CEO. “At our core, we are a customer service company and can take that burden off of the property.”

He adds that a big value proposition is that Fetch accepts all sizes and any type of specialty items—from Amazon boxes to perishables. “From an oversized package perspective, our volume jumped by 68% from April to May,” he says. “We saw that as everyone started to work from home, hundreds of home offices were being set up during that time.”

One community using Fetch is Via6, a 654-unit building with 850 to 900 residents in Seattle.

“The daily amount of packages was overwhelming and could not be managed by on-site staff," says operations manager Eric Brett. "With Fetch now receiving all resident packages and scheduling the delivery window with each individual, we have saved a countless number of hours. This has benefited residents as well, providing a more consistent package delivery experience. If the concierge team is busy or maybe short staffed and a hundred or more packages were just dropped off at the desk, the residents might be notified by the courier, but it could be hours before we are able to sort, mark, and record each delivery. Fetch customer service has been impressive and handles the majority of issues.”

John Helm, founder and partner of RET Ventures, says there are additional proptech solutions that can solve the package delivery problem. RET Ventures is an early-stage venture fund focused on helping build real estate technology companies for the multifamily industry, with a limited-partner network owning and managing over 2 million multifamily and single-family rental units across the U.S. and Canada.

“Last Christmas, a CEO of one of the LPs sent a photo of a lobby and a hallways with boxes stacked everywhere,” says Helm. “It just keeps getting worse. A lot of these properties weren’t designed for this kind of package volume. They are really struggling. You want the delivery person to go to the unit and deliver the package.”

One of RET Ventures’ bigger investments, SmartRent, just finished the Ring integration, which is now starting to be deployed. Residents will be able to receive a push notification that says a person is at their front door, see the camera’s live view, and unlock and lock the door from the SmartRent app. Or residents can create a guest/delivery code that can be supplied to the delivery service.

ButterflyMX is another proptech firm with a smart intercom that connects with property management systems and allows for opening and managing doors from smartphones as well as granting remote and contactless access for visitors. It currently is in more than 4,500 buildings nationwide that represent 450,000 units.

“This is a great solution because getting the couriers into the building is half the battle,” says Anthony Levato, chief marketing officer at ButterflyMX. “Being able to see who is at the door from your phone and being able to provide access remotely has been a no-brainer for property managers and owners who are working remotely from home.”

Regardless of the solution, industry experts stress the importance of this sort of amenity for residents.

“You have to do everything humanly possible to make the residents’ lives easier for the rents they are paying,” says Torres.

Cortland’s Tucker adds that he was a naysayer of package lockers when they first appeared in the market but is now a convert.

“Package lockers are arguably the best amenity we have in every community where we have them. They are far more valuable than I ever thought they would become,” he says. “When we build new communities, we make sure package lockers are installed before residents start to move in. They need to be available from day one because they are that valuable.”