US Brookings research: e-fulfilment is coming into our cities

Brookings is reporting about where will online orders get fulfilled? The changing local geography of e-commerce. Brookings: “As the brick-to-bits transition continues, it’s not enough to just count job and output changes. It’s equally important to know where e-commerce jobs are emerging, especially as it relates to more traditional retail locations”.

Small and large companies

The growth in medium and large e-commerce establishments is important because those places of businesses employ much larger shares of total e-commerce employment than the retail industries that are disappearing.

In 2016, 62.6 percent of e-commerce employees and 86.3 percent of warehouse employees worked in medium or large establishments. As a result, the geography of these establishments matters considerably for getting people to work, for moving goods, and for the source of local tax revenue.

Sprawl of activities

Similar to struggling brick-and-mortar retailers, Brookings finds that emerging e-commerce employers are also sprawling, based on the distance of these establishments from central business districts (CBDs). For example, 49.9 percent of the country’s struggling brick-and-mortar retailers are located at least 10 miles from a central business district, partly reflecting where their suburban customer base lives.

E-commerce actually sprawls a bit more, with 55.9 percent of establishments located more than 10 miles from a CBD, although the e-commerce and warehousing industries do vary a bit.


Medium-sized e-commerce and warehousing establishments are urbanizing the fastest. These kinds of locations within five miles of a CBD can best support transit and other driving alternatives for workers. For warehousing, in particular, the move to central city locations could portend a new kind of warehouse built for modern consumer shopping habits: quicker deliveries, smaller inventories, and reduced parking needs.

Large e-commerce establishments continue to push outward. For warehousing, this reflects how the largest establishments demand significant amounts of land and require strong road transport connections and local freight access. The largest e-commerce establishments also tend to locate in places with easier driving, ample parking, and cheaper land. It’s often more difficult for workers to connect to these outlying jobs via transit, causing some companies to run private transportation services.

As the e-commerce era continues to unfold, these trends suggest the e-commerce industry could see more warehouses locating in denser urban centers alongside or in place of brick-and-mortar retail. The increasing frequency and count of parcel deliveries could create motivation on its own. For example, grocery stores transforming retail and storage space to accommodate online shopping habits

Source: Brookings

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