Online holiday package tsunami swamping US apartment buildings

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 15 Dec 2015

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 14: Shantel Hill, a City Carrier Assistant to the United States Postal Service, works to unload her mail truck after collecting mail on the busiest mailing day of the year for the U.S. Postal Service on December 14, 2015 in Miami, Florida. With 10 days to go until Christmas eve, today the postal service was expecting 612 million pieces of mail to be sent, from first class letters to priority packages. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP == FOR NEWSPAPERS, INTERNET, TELCOS & TELEVISION USE ONLY ==

WASHINGTON: As the holiday shopping season peaks, US apartment complexes are being flooded with packages, from HD televisions to children's scooters, inundating lobbies and forcing building managers to take measures to extremes. 

With online shopping expected to reach a record this year, overwhelmed property managers are starting to put a cap on the size of the boxes they will accept, installing storage lockers or banning deliveries outright. 

Online purchases have spiked during this holiday season, with Americans buying US$3.07bil (RM13.24bil) of goods on "Cyber Monday," the first workday after the Thanksgiving holiday, a 16% increase year on year, according to the Adobe Digital Index Report

The Boston House, a 1950s-era apartment building in Washington that saw package deliveries grow from a couple of dozen to hundreds a week in a few years, has limited the size of boxes, said Liz Cullison, the building's general manager. 

"The packages got larger and larger and larger," Cullison said. "That all overflowed out into the lobby. Now the lobby is overrun with packages." 

Apartment buildings and complexes, home to about one in eight Americans, are being buffeted by the surge in online US retail sales, which rose on an adjusted basis to US$87.5bil (RM377.30bil) in the third quarter, up 15% from a year earlier, according to the Commerce Department. 

Apartment managers "are looking at the future, and they are only seeing more packages," said Rick Haughey, vice-president of industry technology initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council, an industry group. 

"You've got old systems in place that don't really reflect the structural changes that we've seen in retail," he said. 

Holiday volume 

The number of US packages shipped is soaring in tandem with online sales. United Parcel Service Inc, FedEx Corp and the US Postal Service all estimate an increase in the low double digits this year, in part because of one extra day in the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

UPS is forecasting 630 million deliveries during the holiday season, up 43% from 2010. Deliveries for all carriers are expected to peak around Dec 21, four days before Christmas. 

Boston House, where staff were already coping with deliveries of beds, furniture and other bulky items, reached its breaking point when a tenant who was moving across the country had his possessions delivered by UPS, with 40 of the carrier's biggest boxes piling up in the lobby, Cullison said. 

The building has limited the size of packages it will accept to 70 pounds (32kg) and 120 inches (3.05 meters) in length and girth combined. It also has set up an overflow storage room in its basement, Cullison said. 

A 2014 survey of 2,768 apartment managers by the National Multifamily Housing Council found that the typical building or complex receives up to 100 packages a week and they take up to five hours a week of staff time to handle. 

Jose Vega, the assistant director of the 424-unit Elan City Lights, a Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC complex in Dallas, said packages were a significant burden on staff, especially during holidays. 

"It's extremely time-consuming just because (of) the quantity," he said. "The age that we live in, you know, folks prefer to shop online and have something come to their front door." 

Fed up with packages flooding its offices, Camden Property Trust, the 13th-biggest US apartment owner, decided this year to refuse deliveries at its front desks. Carriers now must deliver to the customer's door. 

"We think this is a better customer service experience and the right decision long term," Julie Keel, a Camden marketing director, said in an e-mail. — Reuters

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