Mailrooms at the University of Connecticut will be fitted with new shelves over winter break in hopes of better handling packages and avoiding long delays like those seen at the start of the semester.

A high volume of deliveries in early September – too many to organize on the mailroom shelves – left students waiting weeks for their packages to be sorted.

“It was crazy,” said Student mail services manager Tracy Cree. “We knew we had to change it.”

Cree said mailrooms have received between two and three times as many packages this year as they have in recent years.

Lexus Artis, a senior who has worked in the mailrooms for two years, said she noticed a jump in shipments.

“It was very bad [last year], but honestly, it was far worse this year,” she said.

Cree blamed the increase in deliveries, in part, on the growth of web services like Amazon Prime, which offer free shipping on a wide array of products, including textbooks, technology and furniture.

A fourth-quarter earnings report shows that subscriptions to the Amazon Prime program grew 53% in 2014, and, though the retailer does not disclose specific numbers, several estimates put the total number of U.S. subscribers between 40 and 50 million.

Cree said eight mailrooms, including Northwest, Putnam, Towers and McMahon will be renovated with stronger and larger shelves in order to hold more packages.

“We’re talking about shelving that can hold 300 pounds a shelf,” she said.

Cree said the full renovation is expected to cost under $8,000 and Grainger, a hardware company contracted by the university, will supply the new shelves.

In addition to the new hardware, Cree said mail services plans to implement a new organization system in mailrooms.

“We’re putting barcodes on the shelves,” she said. “We’ll scan the package and scan the shelf to know what shelf it’s on.”

Packages are currently sorted onto shelves based on the first letter of the last name of the recipient.

Artis said it can be difficult to locate packages under the current system.

“It’s kind of hard to, like, see through and find what [package] number you need and sometimes if [the package] is small it gets hidden or tucked away or you won’t see it,” she said.

Cree said some mailrooms have multiple shelves for certain letters of the alphabet, which means employees have to sort through scores of packages to find the one they need.

The new scanning system will allow employees to more quickly pinpoint the location of a package, reducing wait times at mailrooms.

For Artis, this comes as a welcome change.

“I think it would make things faster,” she said. “It’s easier to know [the package] is here in this specific spot and you can go right there and know that it’s there.”
In addition to installing new shelves, Cree said mail services hopes to update the software they use to track packages.

According to mail services supervisor Dora Guilbeault, mailrooms have used the current tracking software, WITS, for more than 10 years.

Cree said one problem with WITS is that it notifies students when their package is sorted in residential mailrooms, but gives no notification when the package arrives at the central sorting warehouse on campus.

This can cause confusion for students who receive a notification from their shipping service that their package has arrived but hear nothing from the UConn mailrooms.

“People are often confused when they come to us,” said Cree. “They’ll say, ‘I think I have a package coming,’ and won’t have any other information about it.”

Cree said she hopes new software will track packages from the moment they arrive in Storrs, keeping students informed and avoiding students searching for packages that have not yet been sorted.

While Cree declined to name the potential new software since discussions are still underway, she said it’s a new program that no other university is currently using to track its mail.

Cree stressed that while she hopes to have the new software installed over winter break, it may take longer.

“What we hope to have, if not by January by the following fall, is that the software we will be using will be new and improved and state of the art,” she said.

Cree said one of the problems that led to the mailroom delays – a lack of staff – has been mended through increased hiring, but she said there is still more work to do.

“You’re still mailing a package from A to B, but we need to be able to utilize technology to improve that,” she said.

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