Last week, we had a post on how the rise of e-commerce was messing with college dorms. Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the influx of package deliveries is also causing headaches at apartment complexes across the country (Web-Shopping Deluge Boxes In Landlords, Oct 20).
The onslaught has turned management offices of apartment buildings into de facto receiving centers as landlords grapple with recording packages, tracking tenants down to pick them up and finding places to store the parcels.
Camden Property Trust, the 14th-largest U.S. apartment operator by number of units, stopped accepting parcels at all of its 169 properties nationwide this year. Executives said the Houston-based landlord, which has roughly 59,000 units in 10 states and the District of Columbia, had received almost a million packages in 2014, and the rate was increasing by 50% a year. …
Each package results in about 10 minutes of lost productivity, Camden executives estimated. At a rate of $20 an hour for employee wages, that amounts to about $3.3 million a year, they said.
Beyond the staff costs, there are a number of other complications. For example, having the office at a complex open normal business hours may suffice for most things, but if residents leave for work before 8:00AM and don’t get home before 6:00PM, coordinating pick up can be a hassle for both the landlord and the resident. There is also a question of liability. If the office signs for a package as a courtesy for a resident, who is on the hook when it somehow goes missing? Given that these problem scale with more delivery, I can understand the desire to refuse to accept packages. Of course, that decision is not terribly popular with many renters. The article has multiple quotes from people who now have packages delivered to a relative’s house or who are just itching for their lease to be done so they can move to a more accommodating complex.
The root cause here is much like the problems at colleges: The existing infrastructure and manual processes were just meant to handle the increased volume of packages. The problems differ a little in terms of their scale and possible solutions. Colleges have more “residents” to deal with at one location than a landlord would have. The University of Connecticut (which we discussed in the earlier post) has 31,000 students in Storrs. A large landlord may have more than 31,000 renters nationwide but they are not stacked into one complex. A college also cannot simply punt. Refusing to sign for UPS packages means the erstwhile recipient has to schlep to some central pick up point — a true hassle if they do not have a car. A college would likely face some serious backlash if they imposed a policy that strictly favored those with automobiles. A landlord in, say, Atlanta, however, can pretty safely count on virtually all residents having cars.
Still there has to be a better alternative for dealing with the rise of e-commerce than to simply refuse to sign for packages. One option would be to outsource taking packages. For example, in Walmart is experimenting with delivering on-line orders to local 7-Elevens. One could imagine a UPS Store or FedEx Office contracting with local apartment complexes to take their packages. The delivery firm would gain some scale efficiency in having one stop taking a large number of items and apartment residents would benefit from having a location with longer hours than the building office while being closer than the typical pick up location.