Digital infrastructureSmart CitiesUrban planners need to consider how e-commerce will reshape our cities

Urban planners need to consider how e-commerce will reshape our cities

Local authorities need to consider the impact on our urban areas of e-commerce and our changing shopping habits, according to a new report.

The Sweco report, Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Analysing the Impact of E-commerce on Urban Areas, highlights how changing consumer behaviour is influencing logistics, city planning and properties, warning that the impact will become more and more apparent as volumes continue to increase.

With e-commerce turnover increasing by 10-15 per cent per year, there is an ongoing structural shift in retail supply chains. From being a relatively predictable behaviour in respect to place and time, shopping has become far more complex and offers new challenges to urban planners, retailers and logistics companies. Challenges include supplying individual customers rather than replenishing stocks in stores, managing returns, and offering a selection of delivery options.

“E-commerce adds convenience and enables new behaviours, for example that people order a surplus of sizes and models and return what does not fit or what they dislike. This implies that the fitting room is moving from in-store to people’s homes,” advises Robert Sommar, transport and logistics expert at Sweco and one of the authors of the report.

The total effect of increased e-commerce remains unclear, but inefficiencies in applied solutions will lead to unnecessary increase in traffic load and pollution. Retail space will probably be reinvented and traditional shops might be replaced by showrooms. Today’s structure and function of warehouses, terminals and collection points, as well as the logistics function in apartment buildings and individual homes may alter considerably due to adaptations to e-commerce.

“The inefficiency of today’s solutions highlights the need for innovative thinking to identify solutions for efficient distribution principles and supply chain strategies and design. Such solutions need to be well integrated into city structures,” added Sommar.

Urban insight

The report, which is part of a series of insight reports called Urban Insight written by Sweco experts on various aspects of urban development from a citizen perspective, states that incorporating new trends and needs into urban planning and design will benefit citizens as well as e-commerce businesses.

“Stakeholders in urban logistics and those responsible for land and property planning need to be coordinated as future requirements are specified for urban logistics facilities’ location and function. Adequate domestic logistics reception capability and capacity also need to be ensured. Logistics facilities will have different requirements for space and location as compared with more traditional set-ups.

“Public authorities and other powerful stakeholders can promote and support new ideas and new thinking regarding the development of solutions for efficient distribution principles and supply chain strategies and design.

“Authorities can also inform citizens about the impact of e-commerce on urban areas, and logistics needs to be given high priority on the regional political agenda, and authorities can guide development through regulations and incentives to steer development in a desirable direction,” the report concludes.

The report can be read in full here.

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