New Research: Impacts of Online Shopping in Massachusetts


New Research: Impacts of Online Shopping in Massachusetts

New research from MAPC finds that online shopping is having major impacts on pollution, traffic, and industrial rents in Greater Boston.

The Commonwealth is seeing rising numbers of delivery trucks and vans on the roads, as people increasingly order online for goods, meals, and groceries. For these deliveries to arrive each day, a sophisticated logistics network of warehouses, distribution centers, and delivery vehicles needs to be in place.

"Hidden and in Plain Sight: Impacts of E-Commerce in Massachusetts" examines the transportation and land use effects of increasing online shopping, highlighting key tends nationally and in Massachusetts and suggesting potential policy solutions to help communities manage the sector's growth.

“While this rapidly growing form of retail offers benefits, like easier access to goods during the pandemic, it also puts tremendous pressure on residents and infrastructure," said report co-author and MAPC senior transportation planner Alison Felix. "State and local governments must work together to make sure this growth actually helps the region, and is sustainably managed.”

E-commerce still represents less than one-fifth of total retail sales in Massachusetts, but employment in online retail grew 30 percent from 2010 to 2019 in this state. Meanwhile, employment in transportation and warehousing increased 58 percent in the same timeframe – even as brick-and-mortar retail employment numbers remained flat.

Once all facilities are operational, the Amazon footprint alone in Massachusetts will comprise over 12 million square feet of warehouse and distribution space.

Since 2010, the number of miles traveled by vehicles on Massachusetts roads has grown 19 percent, partially due to the growth of e-commerce and the widespread adoption of ride-hailing services. This in turn increases traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, worsening air quality.

“There’s no doubt that online shopping is here to stay, and e-commerce is changing the landscape of how we use our roads, curbsides, and vacant commercial parcels. As local officials, we should be proactively planning now to coordinate across municipal boundaries on the planning for these facilities,” said Jay Monty, transportation planner for the City of Everett.

The report recommends some key policy strategies for these local officials, including:

  • Advance regional coordination across municipal boundaries and develop a design guide for siting warehouse and distribution centers. A regional design guide promotes consistency as e-commerce expands, and puts every city and town on equal footing when it comes to making building decisions.
  • Increase transparency by requiring data sharing. Municipalities should require e-commerce companies to report information and metrics such as the location of warehouse and distribution centers, employment, and transportation impacts from their delivery logistics.
  • Establish incentives for efficient deliveries.
  • Implement curb management strategies. These policies should designate delivery and loading zones, establish dynamic pricing mechanisms to foster efficient zone use, and authorize rigorous enforcement.
  • Proactively track and plan for innovations in e-commerce.

Click here to read the full report.