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After Record Online Shopping Spree, 'All Heck Breaks Loose' For Apartment Owners

Shipmaggeddon has arrived, and apartment managers are scrambling to find an answer to the barrage of packages coming with it.

Bicycles, fresh meats and cheeses, kayaks, flowers and every odd-shaped box or perishable delivery in between have caused headaches for developers and property managers, who disagree on solutions but agree that there just isn’t enough space to accommodate the deluge of brown boxes and bags.

Property managers weigh difficult decisions as they tear up mailrooms, expand into amenity space, purchase high-tech storage lockers and send tenants to loading docks in efforts to keep up with the nation’s shopping volume after unprecedented levels of shipping throughout the year.

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Multifamily complexes are seeing upward of 30% of tenants receive packages daily, up 10% from a pre-pandemic period, according to storage locker provider Package Concierge.

Black Friday spending jumped 22% year-over-year to $9B, according to Adobe Analytics, and the firm projects American shoppers to spend more than $180B this holiday season. Shipping volume is expected to rise, with upward of 30% of residents receiving packages daily, up 10% from pre-pandemic level, according to Package Concierge.

Even the shipping companies delivering those packages are feeling overwhelmed, as UPS announced Tuesday it would limit shipping volume for large retailers including Nike and Gap to keep up with e-commerce delivery demands, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The wave of cardboard boxes is expected to crash this week as Black Friday and Cyber Monday shipments begin to arrive, and apartment complexes even only a few years old will find themselves without enough places to put the packages, developers said.

“I haven’t seen a lot of graceful solutions, to be honest with you,” Alliance Residential Co. Managing Director Michael Boujoulian said. “It sounds like a really easy problem to solve, but where are you going to put them where people aren’t tripping over other people’s stuff?”

Some fixes across Alliance’s 500-property, 21-state portfolio include multiple package rooms and a full-covered loading dock where a truck can back in for deliveries since Boujoulian said large items like mattresses, furniture and big-screen TVs show up on a regular basis.

Nearly 20% of shoppers this season will purchase home goods, according to a JLL Holiday report, adding to the package room woes as large packages get dumped on property managers.

Procopio Cos. Vice President Michael Procopio, whos oversees development and management of a Greater Boston multifamily portfolio with more than 300 combined units and 600 more under construction, said his company is doubling the size of package rooms — 1,500 SF of parcel space is worth the loss of a housing unit, he said.

He told the story of a Procopio tenant who had furniture shipped to the building before they had moved in.

“There were just mattresses, boxes, bed frames, tables, a whole truck in the lobby and they just kind of walked away from it all,” Procopio said of the furniture delivery crew. “We asked the resident, what could we do with this stuff?”

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Multifamily developers and property managers are struggling to find a solution to package rooms reaching capacity, industry experts said.

Procopio Properties uses Hello Alfred services to streamline the package flow from mailrooms to tenants, and Procopio said he is a believer in the increased package space solution over storage lockers, where tenants can avoid sorting through stacks of boxes and instead use a code to unlock deliveries.

Storage lockers installed in lobbies, gym spaces, parking lots and outdoor areas can save managers the labor costs of having a staff member lug packages to either a storage room or tenant’s front door. 

Parcel Pending, a smart locker company, has seen shipment storage increase 83% since last year, and the company is recording 3 million packages processed per month since the coronavirus pandemic hit, matching the daily volume of last year’s Black Friday to Christmas period, Parcel Pending founder and CEO Lori Torres said.

Some apartment owners have converted racquetball courts and laundry rooms to package storage, while other times the floor plan needs to simply be torn up. One luxury condominium in Boston built a “decent” sized first-floor package room but had to reconfigure the lobby’s floor plan to allow a side entrance to the package room before the wear and tear from bringing all the packages to the lobby took an aesthetic toll, FirstService Residential Massachusetts President Bryan Hughes said.

Another FirstService-managed property, a 103-unit luxury condominium building in the Seaport, had to employ full-time staff dedicated to clearing out the building’s 600 SF storage room up to five times a day because of the volume of tenants’ orders.

“[Staff were] using bellhop carts, like a hotel cart … six or seven of those going throughout the building delivering packages between typical business hours or shipping hours of 9 to 3 almost that full time,” Hughes said.

Lockers become an issue when services like Amazon deliver a hypothetical 10-item cart in 10 separate boxes. Procopio said flexible shelving that bends and drops down when the surfboards, bicycles and unusually sized purchases come in help. The developer hopes to make the package room at its 10-story luxury apartment complex at 40 Central Square in Lynn a tenant-friendly amenity with a coffee station.

Torres said Parcel Pending is gearing up at local hubs to aid an influx of new couriers dropping packages off at lockers with drop-off codes, including Amazon’s roughly 500,000 delivery drivers, The New York Times reported.

“This week is going to be huge,” Torres said. “Thursday and Friday is when all heck breaks loose and that’s when all of the packages start arriving. Residents will find their packages are delayed. The couriers are not able to keep up right now.”