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As e-commerce sales soar, trucking’s average length of haul drops

Feb. 5, 2019
ATRI: Between 1999-2017, e-commerce sales increased 3,000%, and now total more than 9% of total U.S. retail sales.

The continued growth of e-commerce sales is leading to an increase in the use of single-unit trucks, and a decline in the average length of haul, according to new research by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

ATRI said between 1999-2017, e-commerce sales increased 3,000%, and now total more than 9% of total U.S. retail sales — up from less than 1% in 1999.

As a result, registrations for single-unit trucks increased 7.8% between 2007 and 2016, compared with only 4.4% growth in combination truck registrations. Additionally, intra-regional and last-mile truck trips are increasing, pushing down overall average trip lengths by 37% since 2000.

“These trends are game-changing, and our industry must adapt quickly to ensure that trucking continues to be the preeminent freight mode,” said Tom Benusa, chief information officer of Transport America.

As a result of changing consumer patterns, “last-mile fulfillment centers” represented 73% of the industrial real estate market in 2017, a 15% increase from the previous year, ATRI said.

Retailers are decentralizing their distribution networks to bring inventory closer to consumers, and there has been a spike in courier services to ensure fast delivery.

With so many more deliveries going to congestion, urban areas, ATRI noted fleets and equipment manufacturers are experimenting with new technologies, including drones and electric vehicles.

“According to a study conducted by UPS, a majority (63%) of survey respondents indicated that delivery speed is important when searching for and selecting products,” ATRI wrote.“As a result, consumer expectations regarding delivery speed have forced retailers and their supply chains to accommodate shifting and shrinking delivery windows.”

Looking ahead, ATRI noted that the higher number of local e-commerce deliveries could provide an opportunity for 18-20-year-old commercial drivers to get involved in the industry.

About the Author

Neil Abt

Neil Abt, editorial director at Fleet Owner, is a veteran journalist with over 20 years of reporting experience, including 15 years spent covering the trucking industry. A graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., he began his career covering sports for The Washington Post newspaper, followed by a position in the newsroom of America Online (AOL) and then both reporting and leadership roles at Transport Topics. Abt is based out of Portland, Oregon.

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