Research: travel behavior of e-commerce customers

E-commerce has become an integral part of daily life for many consumers, with both purchase frequency and expenditure witnessing remarkable increases in recent years. A recent Belgian study highlights a notable transition from less frequent purchases (every 3 to 6 months and every 6 to 12 months) to more frequent ones (monthly and weekly). This trend has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 50% of Belgian online shoppers attributing their decision to shop online to the impact of the health crisis. This shift from traditional retail to online platforms prompts inquiry into its effects on consumer travel behavior.

While existing research primarily examines the overall impact of online shopping on personal mobility, little attention has been given to characterizing personal shopping mobility concerning various last-mile delivery options and weight categories of online purchases. This paper not only maps the travel behavior and last-mile delivery practices of Belgian e-commerce users but also provides essential insights into customer travel behavior to evaluate the environmental impact of e-commerce from a consumer perspective.

Drawing on self-reported travel data collected through an online survey of Belgian e-consumers (N = 2105), the results suggest that the choice of last-mile delivery method is not significantly influenced by an order’s weight category. However, significant differences in the modes of transportation used, travel distances, and number of stops are observed across the four last-mile delivery options. Additionally, regional variations in consumer travel patterns are also identified.

In general, home delivery emerges as the overwhelmingly preferred last-mile option. Nearly half of the respondents who experienced failed deliveries reported that no additional travel was necessary for the consumer or the logistics provider to receive or deliver the parcel. Additionally, consumers tend to consistently opt for the same last-mile option regardless of the weight categories of parcels or choose from a limited set of options. This suggests that the weight category of an order does not significantly influence respondents’ last-mile choices.

Upon closer examination of travel behavior, notable differences emerge in the modes of transportation used across the four last-mile options. The study also reveals consumers travel longer distances when collecting a package from a store or workplace. However, these trips to stores or workplaces involve a more significant number of stops (trip chaining), indicating a potential combination of factors at play.

The study examines the effects of substitution and modification on travel behavior. The findings indicate that consumers combine trips more frequently when using a car or bicycle than when walking. Moreover, residents of Wallonia tend to combine their trips to pick up orders with other journeys more often, on average, than residents of the other two regions. However, no significant difference was observed in the use of different modes of transportation among the three regions.

These results generally align with the findings of earlier research, which suggests that last-mile practices significantly impact the travel behavior of e-commerce customers. The study underscores the importance of considering various travel outcomes, including transportation mode, trip chaining, last-mile practices, and customer residential locations, to comprehensively assess the impact of e-commerce on travel behavior.

Source: VLW paper

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