Student parcel delivery: A complete guide to smart lockers for colleges and universities

Our digital lifestyle has reshaped campus life, and no one has felt the impact more than the campus mail centers managing volumes of inbound parcels, space limitations and labour-intensive delivery processes.

Discover how a smart locker can help modernize your receiving processes.

As the number of students and parcels grows, so does the need to modernize student parcel delivery. For colleges and universities that means deploying smart parcel lockers across locations on campus to streamline parcel management and enhance student services. Learn how smart parcel lockers work and how they can improve campus life for both faculty and students.

Inside this article

Student parcel delivery—then and now
How does a smart parcel locker work?
5 benefits of a smart locker for colleges and universities
5 selling points of smart lockers for college students
Student parcel delivery: technology deep dive
Choose the right smart locker solution

Student parcel delivery—then and now

Student parcel delivery back in the day

A generation ago, a student living on campus might receive a care package from home or a catalogue once or twice a semester. Another student working at a small campus mail center would manually log the parcel’s details and set it aside until the recipient came by to claim it. That was the extent of the student parcel delivery process.

Students spend 8.6 billion online
Source: Deloitte 2020
Shipping volume +14.8 annually
Expected increase through 2024 Source: Pitney Bowes Parcel Index 2020

Student parcel delivery today

What makes student parcel delivery so challenging today? Each year American students spend over $8.4 billion shopping online, while campus shipping volumes grow at 14.8 percent annually. And those small campus mail centers, built long before eCommerce was a popular concept, are overwhelmed by the surge. That flood of incoming parcels includes more than just student care packages and online orders; mail centers are also handling important documents for administration, research samples and artifacts for faculty, and supplies and equipment deliveries for facilities.

The struggle is real, and its impact can be counted by the number of lost or delayed packages and complaints lodged by faculty, students and senders—senders who are often tuition-paying parents.

The more parcels a mail center receives each day, the more lost, misplaced or stolen parcels it experiences each year.

lost parcel per year data
Source: Mailing Systems Technology

Student parcel delivery now and beyond the pandemic

Colleges and universities were severely impacted by the pandemic and the closures and mandates that followed. The need for social distancing further complicates already-challenging on-campus services. Waiting in line at a mail center or other distribution point isn’t just an inconvenience now, it can be health risk. Maintaining safe distance isn’t easy in a crowded mail center designed for a different time.

The future of student parcel delivery

The future of student services, including parcel delivery, is automation. Colleges and universities across the country are deploying smart locker solutions combined with automated tracking systems to deliver a modern, contactless student parcel delivery service.

For students, this translates to convenience. They receive a digital notification that a package is waiting for them. They can pick it up at a locker without waiting in line at the student center to be helped. For friends and families of students, they send packages as they’ve always done; the main difference is in how these packages are handled once they arrive at on campus.

Smart locker systems in the mail center provide:

  • Accurate status information from the time a parcel arrives on campus.
  • The ability to process inbound parcels fast.
  • Instant automated messages about pick-up and delivery.
  • Knowledge of exactly where every parcel is until it’s delivered.

The ability to have packages delivered to a smart parcel locker adds tremendous value, and not just for the mail center. Parcel locker locations across campus are being used to elevate services for faculty and students in the innovative ways they’ve come to expect.

Delivery expectations meet delivery challenges

As the number of students and parcels rises, mail centers are struggling to keep up with volumes, space limitations, campus-wide delivery—and most of all, faculty and student expectations.


  • Students, parents, faculty and administrative personnel expect shipping times to be accurate, which means no delivery delays once a package reaches campus.
  • Recipients demand fast, round-the-clock, error-free updates and timely notifications.
  • Health and safety is a top priority among students, faculty, staff and parents. They want to know their concerns have been addressed.


  • Higher volumes require longer shifts, resulting in overworked staff.
  • Time-wasting, manual package tracking limits responsiveness and increases costs.
  • Packages that are not being picked up quickly take up valuable shelf space.
  • Lost or misplaced packages create a negative experience.
smart locker

How does a university campus benefit from a smart parcel locker system?

Colleges and universities use smart lockers to automate package and asset distribution, IT maintenance, retail services and bookstore sales.

Unlike traditional lockers, a smart locker substitutes manual door locks with automated security features and a touchscreen, enhancing student parcel delivery and security.

Automated lockers also take automation to new heights by integrating third-part software, giving administrators the ability to digitally and remotely monitor packages.

This added advantage of tracking software also features live data and analytics.

Tracking Dashboard Screenshot

5 benefits of a smart locker for colleges and universities

1. Improve operations in the mail center and other distribution points

Back-to-school shopping and the holidays impact shipping volumes on campus. But students are also shopping online year-round, and a smart locker offers colleges and universities another delivery point for students. You receive a package or mail, scan it into your tracking system, deliver it to the locker—and just like that—it's out of the mail center. Space is freed up for other deliveries, staff can focus on other tasks and the mail center hums along regardless of inbound package volume.

These same benefits apply to all busy distribution points—whether the campus bookstore, student services or a lab.

2. Track inbound packages and high-value assets

Inbound parcel-tracking systems provide accurate status information from the moment an asset or a package is received until it’s delivered to a smart parcel locker and picked up by the intended recipient.

Tracking packages and assets accomplishes more than just identifying and locating lost or misrouted items. Together, smart lockers and tracking software can provide analytics and data reporting across the full chain of custody to help identify and remedy issues, identify opportunities to cut costs, optimize operations and enhance the student experience.

3. Automate manual processes

Colleges and universities are known for being bastions of tradition. Unfortunately, that often extends to the mail center. Many campus mail centers are still using pen and paper to capture relevant package details like the number of parcels received daily, when each was received, who it’s for and when it was picked up and signed for. Automating these manual tasks can reduce student parcel delivery times from days to hours.

Smart lockers not only automate student parcel delivery, they also automate the processes used to manage campus property like lab and audio-visual equipment, laptops, printers, books and more.

4. Improve health and safety of faculty and staff

Smart lockers provide colleges and universities with a no-contact point of delivery, eliminating the need for staff to physically interact with students who are picking up a package or checking out an asset. And automating many of the time-consuming processes associated with the mail center, bookstore and other distribution points, reduces the number of staff required to work in one confined space.

The modular design of smart lockers enhances safety as well. The flexibility to install them almost anywhere on campus allows you to choose locations based on lighting, foot traffic, security camera coverage and other safety-related considerations.

5. Reduce loss, theft and unauthorized use

Even if theft and loss claims are rare on your campus, mistakes happen—especially in overwhelmed and understaffed mail centers and equipment departments. Using a smart parcel locker to track packages and assets in real time creates an end-to-end chain of custody. Barcode scans confirm receipt and delivery and provide an automatic record of when an inbound package arrived and when it was picked up. In the case of a campus or department asset, you’ll know who used it, when they used it and what condition it was returned in.

In addition to chain of custody, more robust tracking solutions will also include features that allow you to designate who is authorized to access and use specific assets and equipment.

Smart lockers for higher education eliminate campus mail center chaos

In today’s digital world, students are arriving at college carrying fewer belongings, knowing they can buy whatever they need and have it delivered. Pitney Bowes understands, and helps schools streamline their mail center processes with our smart locker receiving solutions.

5 selling points of smart lockers for college students

1. Promote 24/7 on-demand services

For today’s students, on-demand isn’t an option, it’s an expectation. Smart lockers allow your college or university to implement new 24/7 services that don’t require 24/7 staffing. Whether used for student parcel delivery, bookstore purchases or IT services, this on-demand accessibility offers students the freedom and flexibility they take for granted off campus and want to see supported on campus.

Every detail matters as your school competes for quality enrollment and parent contributions. Offering students and faculty on-demand, round-the-clock services that make life on campus easier is a compelling selling point.

2. Promote the student experience

The college experience is rightfully focused on academics, but colleges and universities must take into account that many students will be living away from the comforts of home for the first time. The automated services technology like smart lockers support help ease the transition to college and university life.

In addition to providing comfort, convenience and security benefits that you can openly promote, these enhanced services also send an unspoken message: We care about the same things you care about. And that’s a sentiment that resonates with parents, faculty and donors, as well as students.

3. Promote a fully hybrid campus

University life is not always lived on campus. Some 41% of students take college courses online, many while enrolled on a campus. You also have non-traditional students commuting to classes, untenured faculty teaching at more than one institution and professors delivering lectures remotely. Add to that unexpected shutdowns like those seen over the past two years, and the value of a secure, contactless way to distribute technology, books and other educational resources is clear.

Here’s another way of looking at it: You already have a hybrid campus—you just need to empower it and promote it with a smart locker solution.

4. Promote enterprise-level support

Students may not live in the “real” world quite yet, but their parents do, and they have high expectations regarding on-campus amenities. For example, if they send a care package from home or route an online purchase to campus, many of them will be tracking its delivery. You don’t want your mail center to be the bottleneck.

Similar to the expectations they have at work, parents expect nearly every student service, including parcel delivery, to be online, digitized and—most of all—secure and convenient. Smart parcel lockers help college and university administrators meet these expectations in the mail center and beyond.

5. Promote health and safety protocols

Parents are understandably concerned about sending their children off into the world for the first time. Is their dorm comfortable? Will they eat well? What about campus security?

Now you can add a new concern: health and safety protocols. Colleges and universities that offer smart locker services can help ease some of that worry. Being ready with a contactless delivery and pick-up solution that takes health, safety and social distancing into account assures parents you take their concerns seriously and are willing to take every measure possible to address them.


Image of a college students opening a care package

The smart campus solution

Smart lockers are ushering in the next evolution of campus services. It might start with student parcel delivery, but it doesn’t end there. Nearly any asset distribution service that can be improved by automation and on-demand availability is a candidate for a smart locker transformation. Smart lockers easily meet the demands of a 24/7 college lifestyle and help meet the service expectations of both faculty and parents. With a smart locker solution, colleges and universities can simplify mail center operations and protect valuable assets while improving productivity, safeguarding health and enhancing student satisfaction.