Usability Flaws of the DHL Packstation

13.02.2013 in EnglishInspirationUser Experience  von Katrin Mathis

For quite some time, I am a big fan of "Packstation" a service providing automated booths for self-service collection of parcels by DHL. Having started as a pilot project in 2001 there are now over 2500 Packstations in Germany so that according to DHL 90% of the population lives within 10 minutes of one (I wonder by with which means of transport though).

DHL Packstation, a service providing self-service collection of parcels
Photo by Felix O. (sludgegulper)/Flickr


"My" Packstation is just around the corner only a few hundred meters away so that I can easily stop by on my way home. When a parcel arrives at the Packstation, I am notified and can collect the parcel using my Goldcard and the mTAN sent per text message. Sometimes when I have more than one outstanding order it is hard to figure out which parcel arrived though. Because I am usually not at home during the day and don't want to burden my neighbors too much, this has become so convenient that not delivering to a Packstation can be a reason for me not to order from a certain online store.


The only real problem I experienced so far is that from time to time when the Packstation is full or when parcels are larger than 60 x 35 x 35 cm they get rerouted to the post office. Because of their limited opening hours it can be quite a task to find the time to pick it up before the parcel is sent back after 7 days. In addition, I could imagine that it's hardly accessible by wheelchair users.

Returns can also be handed in at the Packstation. You only need to scan two barcodes, choose a box size and print the receipt or have it sent per e-mail. Last week however when I wanted to return a parcel, it let me choose between size S and size M only but the parcel did not fit into size M. The only options available were to confirm that I successfully placed the parcel into the box or to go back which would reopen a box of the same size. Usually there is a button to indicate that the box was too small but as there was apparently no size L box available at the time this option was greyed out just as the main menu. The parcel number was still displayed and I had no other choice than to wait for several minutes until the process was automatically canceled. Meanwhile the parcel to return is still driving around in my trunk.

Usability flaw when returning a parcel at DHL Packstation

For me, Packstation is a great example of a service that addresses the needs of growing target group of online buyers that at the same time increasingly live in single households where nobody is at home at daytime to accept deliveries. DHL received several awards for their service such as the World Mail Awards in 2004 for the most innovative postal product worldwide. At the same time, my recent experience has shown that their user interface is not completely thought-out. Situations occur where users are unable to complete their goals. They are left consternated due to the poor error recovery. By anticipating such issues and giving users meaningful feedback such as "We are sorry but at the moment there are no larger boxes available. Please try again later or come to the next post office" DHL would be able to ease users in case of errors.


Katrin Mathis, UX Konzepterin und Service Designerin aus Freiburg

Katrin Mathis
MBA in Service Innovation & Design und BSc in OnlineMedien berät seit über 10 Jahren Unternehmen, die digitale Transformation zum Nutzen ihrer Kunden einzusetzen.


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