The DHL Packstation

The world’s largest logistics company, Deutsche Post DHL (DPDHL), is the national postal service in Germany. According to their 2016 Business Profile, DPDHL controls 62.1% of the German mail communication market and 43.7% of the German parcel market. In Germany there’s much more competition among couriers and delivery companies. Some that come to mind include PIN Mail, DPD, Hermes, GLS, as well as UPS and FedEx.

One of the innovations that has contributed to DPDHL’s spot as the number one parcel delivery company in Germany is the Packstation. The Packstation was introduced in 2001 and since then has grown into a network of 2750 automatic parcel pick up and drop off stations.

The way this free-of-charge system works is that a potential user must register with DHL online. Then, the customer is sent their golden DHL card and “Post Number” via DPDHL’s Identity Verification service. Therefore, before the customer can use the service, DHL confirms their identity and residence.

Once the user has their card, they can have parcels shipped to any Packstation in Germany. They must simply have their package addressed to the Packstation, including their Post Number in the second line. For example, a recent shipment of mine was addressed like this (with an example Post Number instead of mine):

Ari Mendelson
85280326
Packstation 166
10365 Berlin

As soon as the package is delivered and secured in the Packstation, DHL sends a message to the user by Email and SMS, notifying them that the package is ready for pickup. The SMS includes a one-time mobile TAN, which is a 4 digit number that the user must enter to pick up the package. The user then has a week to go to the Packstation, insert their golden DHL card, and enter the TAN (number). The little locker then opens up and the user retrieves the package!

Here’s a video of me picking up a package. Apologies for the intermittent bluriness, as I did have to blur out my Post number.

This solution is great for people who work or otherwise aren’t home all day to take a delivery. Unlike many areas of the USA, where carriers simply leave packages without signatures unless specifically required, all packages in Germany require a signature (unless a special secure box is installed at a package recipient’s home). Therefore, this system is much more valuable here than it would be elsewhere, such as in American suburbia.

To some, this concept may seem like a familiar concept. Besides other European postal services modelling similar systems after Germany’s, Amazon has created a network of similar machines. They piloted Amazon Lockers as early as 2011, and they are located primarily in the US and the UK. They are quite successful in areas where carriers don’t just leave packages, for the same reasons as those responsible for the Packstation’s success. Amazon has reportedly begun piloting their lockers in other countries, including Germany. This is interesting to me because where amazon.com in the US normally shows an option for Amazon Lockers in the shipping destination choices, amazon.de shows Packstations. I wonder if Amazon will continue to grow Amazon Lockers in Germany despite the existence of its original inspiration throughout the country.

All links in the article were used for reference, as well as this article.