Transportation, 31 (2004), 257-284

A conceptual analysis of the transportation Impacts of B2C e-commerce

Mokhtarian, P.L.

Abstract. This paper discusses, at a conceptual level, a number of issues related to the evaluation of the transportation and spatial impacts of e-shopping. We review the comparative advantages of store shopping and e-shopping, and conclude that neither type uniformly dominates the other. We identify the building blocks of the shopping process, and note that information and communications technologies are making possible the spatial and temporal fragmentation and recombination of those elements. We analyze future shopping-related changes in transportation as the net outcome of four different fundamental causes, that can be viewed hierarchically: ( 1) changes in shopping mode share (i.e. shifts in the proportion of shopping activities conducted through store shopping, e-shopping and other modes), keeping the volume of goods purchased and per capita consumption spending constant; ( 2) changes in the volume of goods purchased, keeping per capita consumption spending constant; ( 3) changes in per capita consumption spending, independent of demographic changes; and ( 4) demographic changes. Some factors result in reduced travel while others lead to increased travel. The combined outcome of all factors does not appear to support any hope that e-shopping will reduce travel on net; to the contrary there may be negative impacts due to increased travel, even if those impacts are likely to be localized and/or small in magnitude for the most part. Thus, on the whole, we are likely (with some exceptions) to see continued adoption of both store shopping and e-shopping. Consumers will blend both forms as they conduct a sequence of shopping activities, and retailers will blend both in marketing to and serving customers. Assessing the transportation impacts of e-shopping - even in the short term, let alone the long term - presents some formidable measurement challenges. Nevertheless, those challenges are worthy of our most creative efforts at solution.