National Impacts of E-commerce Growth-Development of a Spatial Demand Based Tool

Last-mile distribution is costly and a major contributor to greenhouse gases. These distribution operations have been increasing due to a shift in purchasing behaviors, and will continue to grow in the coming years and decades. Specifically, the sheer number of purchases using online channels (e-commerce) has been growing considerably. However, the current and future impacts of e-commerce are not fully understood. While researchers have identified conditions in which e-commerce could help reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and emissions due to the substitution of shopping trips with aggregated truck deliveries, there are many instances and behaviors (e.g., rush deliveries) that can result in large disadvantages. Furthermore, there are uncertainties about the geographic concentration of the increased e-commerce activity, and the potential temporal changes in shopping behaviors that could affect the growth of e-commerce demand and the associated freight activity. This study addresses the questions:

  1. How much will e-commerce grow?
  2. Will the growth be consistent across locations and demographics?
  3. What are the impacts on the transportation system?

In doing so, this study will develop a tool to estimate VMT and emissions from varying e-commerce scenarios (e.g. electrification, automation) for different geographic and temporal frames using behavioral, time series and approximate transportation demand models.

Research Area