Not so long ago, businesses saw no great need to put much effort into managing inbound parcels and mail pieces. However, in the last few years the inbound parcel receiving landscape has changed greatly for all kinds of businesses and institutions. Parcel volumes have increased dramatically, regulatory compliance has become a major issue, and more and more critical items are coming through the shipping channel. Let’s start with the volume issue.

E-Commerce Is Pushing the Envelope

Fueled by growing global e-commerce, parcel volumes continue to grow. In fact, the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index projects a 20% increase in parcel shipping globally by 2018, due mostly to increases in e-commerce driven by the relentlessly growing number of online shoppers around the world. As smartphones and tablets gain in popularity, the increasing amount of mobile transactions adds even more impetus to the overall growth of e-commerce.

Merchants themselves are also doing more to encourage e-commerce. Websites for businesses of all sizes are offering free shipping, usually for a minimum sized order. And the market leaders have begun to battle it out. Amazon offers free shipping on everything once you buy a $100 annual Prime membership, while Walmart recently eliminated its membership fee and lowered the minimum order for free shipping from $50 to just $35.

One significant result of this growth in e-commerce is the corresponding jump in e-commerce returns. Businesses need to be ready to handle the increasing number of returned packages from online shoppers around the world.

Personal Packages Amplify the Challenge

Then we have the growth in inbound parcel volumes, thanks to personal purchases that employees have sent to their place of employment. Households where nobody is home during the day can cause concerns about the security of packages delivered and left at the doorstep, which is driving a growing trend of directing personal parcels to the workplace.

Allowing employees to have personal purchases shipped to their work addresses has significantly increased the volume of inbound packages that organizations now need to handle and manage. Not to mention the fact that those businesses now become responsible for the packages of their employees once they sign for them.

Regulations Ramp Up Responsibility

Along with the increase in volume of inbound parcels and mail, an increase in regulations has dialed up the responsibility for those taking receipt of shipments. For example, when medical records are delivered, the recipient takes on the responsibility for ensuring privacy compliance as soon as those records land on their premises. Therefore, if there is a privacy breach, it is critical that the receiving organization be able to document the chain of custody of the medical records parcel within the organization — its path from the mail center/receiving area to the intended recipient.

Beyond healthcare privacy, there are similar regulations protecting consumer privacy in the financial services arena. If a breach occurs, it’s imperative that an organization be able to document, throughout the enterprise, the chain of custody of the inbound parcel or mail piece containing the customer information.

An Increase In Critical Shipments

The need for more efficient and effective inbound parcel management is further driven by the growth in the number of critical items being shipped to organizations. For example:

  • In the financial services, legal and real estate industries, it is mandatory that certain documents are tracked and delivered in a timely fashion. Such items include large checks, contracts, mortgage and loan applications, legal documents, case files and proofs or evidence that are part of a legal case.
  • The healthcare arena has its own set of concerns. Hospitals receive shipments to their physicians, nurses, labs and pharmacies, including records, test samples and results, and a huge range of medications. As mentioned above in the regulatory section, medical files issued by hospitals, labs and physicians need to be accurately tracked and accounted for.
  • The prison system has particularly special needs for inbound parcel and mail management. Security challenges must be met, yet client-attorney communications need to be facilitated and kept private. Here, breakdowns in inbound mail and parcel management could lead to a security or contraband breach.

The fact is inbound parcels can be critical in almost any type of business. Deliveries can contain everything from large payments to contracts, important machine parts, medical samples or personal deliveries for the CEO. If these assets are delayed, lost or misplaced, an organization’s operations can come to a halt or client satisfaction may be seriously compromised. That’s why knowing an inbound parcel has been received at an organization is only part of the job. You need to get it to its final destination, to the proper recipient, in the right time frame.

An Educational Lesson

Good examples of how the inbound package management landscape has dramatically changed can be found in college and university mail centers. In many ways, these mail centers are the hub of the campus. Thanks to smartphones, tablets and computers, it’s now easier than ever for students and faculty to make purchases—and college and university mail centers are seeing hundreds, even thousands, of packages coming through daily. As the value of these packages grows, so does the liability attached to them.

To give you an idea of the growing inbound parcel challenge facing these institutions of higher education, consider these two facts: 1) retail e-commerce sales will increase to more than $4 trillion by 2020, according to eMarketer and 2) more than 75% of college students in the U.S. having made a purchase online in the last 30 days. So it’s easy to see that why campus mail centers are seeing significant increases in their daily package volume. This also has made today’s students more knowledgeable about shipping and tracking. They want the best delivery services from carriers at the lowest cost, and want to track their shipments every step of the way.

Many campus mail centers still operate in an old fashioned, often a completely manual, incoming package process. These mail centers strain under an ever-increasing workload. Unable to quickly and efficiently process inbound packages, the final deliveries are delayed to the students, faculty members and administrators who ordered them. To exacerbate the situation, these shipping-savvy recipients already know that the package has arrived at the school. The pressure compounds during peak college shipping seasons, including back-to-school, winter and summer breaks.

Fortunately, the answer to these inbound parcel management challenges lies in the new technologies available in parcel processing solutions coming onto the market. Schools, other institutions and businesses may be hesitant about investing in making their inbound package management systems more efficient and reliable. However, the volume of inbound parcels will only continue to grow, the liabilities involved in handling them will increase, and a greater number of critical items will be coming through these mail centers for organizations of all types and sizes.

In Part 2 of this series, we will explore the new technologies that are available to help organizations better manger their inbound package management and meet the challenges of today’s changing parcel landscape.

Tom Hazel is North American Channel Director, Pitney Bowes Shipping Solutions, where he is responsible for managing the Distribution Solutions & Carrier Management product portfolio for the United States and Canadian field organizations and Inside Sales Channels.

Editor's Note: This originally appeared in our sister publication, PARCEL, but as we know mailers are also seeing an increase in their inbound mail and packages, we thought it was pertinent to this audience, as well.