Rise in online shopping is straining Houston’s distribution channels

Americans spent 44% more shopping on websites, including Amazon, in 2020 than in 2019. (Courtesy Amazon)

Consumers spent $ 861 billion online with U.S. vendors in 2020, up 44% from the previous year, according to market research firm Digital Commerce 360.

This increase in e-commerce activity has put a strain on the region’s transportation system, said Bill Eisele, senior research engineer and head of the mobility division at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, at the monthly lunch of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce on June 15.

“[Freight transportation] is really the backbone of our economy: being able to move these goods through roads, supply chains and logistics, ”he said. “We heard a lot about it during the pandemic, especially when we couldn’t find toilet paper, water and disinfectant wipes, and we all started to care a little more about… the supply chain. “

Due to a shortage of semiconductor chips used to make vehicles, Eisele said there were not enough trucks to meet demand at the moment, and a continuing shortage of drivers was exacerbated during the pandemic.

Additionally, especially in more urbanized areas, distributors have to compete for sidewalk space with Uber drivers, parking and loading areas, garbage collection, and buses.

“When you make this delivery downtown, that delivery driver shows up and if he’s downtown and looking at a skyscraper, maybe he doesn’t necessarily have a central location for it. drop off the packages, ”he said. “There is an important aspect… once the driver gets onto the sidewalk trying to figure out, ‘Where’s my common place to put this package? “How can I minimize my time on the sidewalk to be conscientious for all these other users?” “

Amazon Hub Lockers help minimize driver time on these sidewalks, Eisele said, and some companies are deploying or planning to implement “space age” delivery solutions to make deliveries more efficient.

For example, Eisele said that the Nuro R2 delivery robot used by Domino’s and some grocery chains, was the first driverless vehicle to receive regulatory approval from the US Department of Transportation. He said he believed any kind of technological advancement that would help carriers reliably and securely meet their delivery windows would be a viable option going forward.

In addition to autonomous vehicles, Eisele said Amazon has several patents on future distribution channels, including underground and submarine warehouses. Drone distribution centers could also appear on trains and in hovering airships, according to those Amazon patents, he said.

“There’s a very large, global supply chain behind whoever shows up and delivers this package to you, and really a lot of things have to go right for this package to get there, and most of the time, that’s the case, ”he said. . “There are huge implications when you click on ‘next day delivery’ or ‘same day delivery’, in particular… This is something that is going to catch up. [to] our transportation system at some point.

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