Running a home-based business, I face a dilemma: I need my business mail and packages, but I’m not comfortable sharing my home address with everyone. Plus, my home mailbox is right out in the open, and my neighborhood suffers the occasional mail theft. Most of the time, I’m able to rely on my mail stop, a local branch of PostalAnnex+. This serves as my business mailing address, and I can count on the staff there to sign for any packages I have delivered. Most of the time, this works like a charm. But today’s blog post is about those times when my needs exceed even a dedicated mail stop’s capabilities.
The first time I encountered a gap in the system was this past New Year’s Eve. I had ordered some Ergotech monitor arms (remember?) on December 29, and, impatient as I am, I requested rush delivery. FedEx set out to deliver the arms on Saturday the 31st. Unfortunately, the mail stop kept shortened hours on New Year’s Eve—opening late and closing early— and FedEx showed up too early to have somebody sign for the package.
Seeing that the package was still on the truck, (thanks, online tracking!) I called and requested that it be held at the local FedEx depot. They told me they would do that, so I made my way over to receive the boxes. When I got there, the FedEx clerks explained that the driver decided to be helpful and try to deliver again. This time, he had succeeded, and the boxes were in the safe hands of PostalAnnex+. This was all explained to me after waiting at FedEx well into the afternoon. Once I knew where my box was, I high-tailed it to the mail stop… only to see that they had closed for the weekend, and, as nobody was delivering on Monday, January 2, they wouldn’t be open until Tuesday. Infuriating.
The next time I needed a package in a hurry was just this past weekend. I discovered late on Friday that I needed a special tool for disassembling a mac mini, and nobody locally had it in stock. Amazon sells a kit that contained this tool, and they even had it available for Sunday delivery.
This is where my New Year’s PTSD kicked in: PostalAnnex+ isn’t open on Sundays, and I was hoping to get this repair finished before the start of business Monday. I could have told Amazon to ship it to my home address, but I was going to be out most of the day Sunday, and I wasn’t about to trust a package to be left at my front door for who knows how long. So I couldn’t get it at my mail stop, and I didn’t want it at my home address. If only there were a third option…
As it turns out, there was!
In September 2011, Amazon Lockers opened in New York City, Seattle, and London. In 2013, as the service expanded to cities across the US and UK, Amazon pitched the concept in this light-hearted cartoon:
From Amazon’s site:
Amazon Lockers are self-service delivery locations where customers can pick up and return Amazon.com packages. Lockers are available in and around major cities, and allow customers to pick up their packages at a time and place that’s convenient for them.
Amazon Lockers live in shopping centers, retail stores, transit stations, and other access points in areas with high package density. Customers select an Amazon Locker as their shipping address, receive a pickup code when the package is delivered, and collect their package at their convenience up to three business days after delivery.
The exciting part for me was the locker nearest to me that could accommodate this package (sometimes they fill up and you have to pick a different location) was located in a 7-11, the famously always-open convenience store. Once I got my notification that the package had arrived in its locker, I made my way over to 7-11 on Sunday to try this service out for the first time.
Amazon’s email notification included a bar code. I brought up the message on my phone, and held the screen under the Locker’s laser scanner. I didn’t have to type in any codes, or passwords, or anything. The scanner recognized the code, and a door on one of the small lockers popped open. I took my Amazon box out of the locker, closed the little door, and walked out without ever having to talk to anyone!
Perhaps I’m too enthusiastic about what this could mean for the delivery industry. I know Amazon’s next eventual phase is drone delivery, and even today, Amazon Prime members can take advantage of same-day delivery in 29 cities. (Sadly, they’re still using cars and trucks for now.)
This degree of instant gratification, combined with whenever-you-want package pickup, is promising; but of course there are concerns about what this could mean for those employed by companies like PostalAnnex, the UPS Store, etc.
We’re already seeing machines replace people in grocery stores and fast food restaurants. Forgive the political reference, but the current nominee for Labor Secretary, Andy Puzder, is a big believer in the automation revolution: “[Machines are] always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case,” he told Business Insider in 2016.
I certainly don’t want Amazon to put even more people out of jobs (pour one out for Borders bookstores and the like); but unless the companies who maintain mail boxes can find a way to compete and innovate so that people can get their packages whenever they want, I’m afraid they’re going to get locked out. In this age of one-click purchases and same-day delivery, if you’re closed on Sunday, don’t bother opening up on Monday. ■