Surge in online shopping strains Houston’s distribution channels

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

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

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

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

“[Freight transportation] really is the backbone of our economy—being able to keep these goods moving on the roadways, the supply chains and logistics,” he said. “We heard a lot more about that during the pandemic, particularly when we couldn't find toilet paper and water and disinfectant wipes, and we all started to care a little bit more about ... the supply chain.”

Because of a shortage of semiconductor chips used to make vehicles, Eisele said there are not enough trucks to keep up with demand at this time, and an ongoing shortage of drivers has been exacerbated during the pandemic.

Additionally, especially in more urbanized areas, distributors must compete for curb space with Uber drivers, parking and loading zones, waste collection and buses.

“When you make that delivery in the downtown area, that delivery driver shows up and if they’re downtown and they're looking at a skyscraper, they may not necessarily have a central location to drop packages,” he said. “There's an important aspect ... once that driver gets on the curb trying to figure out, ‘Where's my common location to put this package? How do I minimize my time on the curb to be conscientious for all those other users?’”

Amazon Hub Lockers help minimize drivers’ time on these curbs, Eisele said, and some companies are rolling out or plan to implement “space-age” delivery solutions to make deliveries more efficient.

For example, Eisele said the Nuro R2 delivery robot used by Domino’s and some grocery store chains, was the first driverless vehicle to receive regulatory approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation. He said he believes any kind of technology advancement that will help carriers reliably and safely meet their delivery windows will be viable options in the future.

In addition to autonomous vehicles, Eisele said Amazon has several patents on future distribution channels, including underground and underwater warehouses. Drone fulfillment centers could also be emerging on trains and in hovering blimps, according to these patents from Amazon, he said.

“There's a really large and global supply chain behind the person that shows up and provides you with that package, and really a lot of things have to go right for that package to get there, and most of the time it does,” he said. “There are huge implications when you're clicking on ‘next-day delivery’ or ‘same-day delivery,’ especially ... It's something that is going to catch up [to] our transportation system at some point.”
By Danica Lloyd

Editor, Cy-Fair

Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2016. As editor, she continues to cover local government, education, health care, real estate, development, business and transportation in Cy-Fair. Her experience prior to CI includes studying at the Washington Journalism Center and interning at a startup incubator in D.C., serving as editor-in-chief of Union University's student magazine and online newspaper, reporting for The Jackson Sun and freelancing for other publications in Arkansas and Tennessee.


A new brewery will soon be opening on Cypress Rosehill Road at the former location of The Shack Burger Resort. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Misfit Outpost by Fortress BeerWorks coming soon to The Shack in Cypress

The owners of Fortress BeerWorks and Misfit BeerWorks are partnering on a new craft beer venture. The 5-acre site will be family-friendly, dog-friendly and host live music on the weekends.

As variants are isolated and identified, Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass believes the vaccines available can handle identified variants (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
'The vaccines we have are effective against all the variants out there': Houston Methodist's Dr. Ian Glass discusses variants, vaccinations

As Houston Methodist identified its first case of the lambda variant July 19, Dr. Glass believes vaccines can handle known variants.

Houston Yoga and Ayurveda specializes in natural yoga practices. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston Yoga and Ayurveda to celebrate 10-year anniversary in Cypress

The company began in March 2011 and specializes in ayurveda, the oldest known medical practice in the world, according to owner Sharon Kapp.

Peter Lake (left), chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Brad Jones, interim president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, provided an update on state regulators' electric grid redesign efforts in Austin on July 22. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Regulators: Texas electric grid prepared for potentially record-breaking demand next week; 'once-in-a-generation reforms' underway

The heads of the agencies in charge of the Texas electric grid met in Austin on July 22 to provide updates on their grid reform efforts.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is pleading with residents to be more vigilant, asking all residents to start wearing masks again in indoor settings and asking those who are vaccinated to urge their friends who are not to get the shot. (Screenshot Courtesy Facebook)
Harris County raises coronavirus threat level as Hidalgo asks all residents to mask up indoors

Although those who are vaccinated are very unlikely to end up in the hospital, officials said wearing masks in certain situations could help reduce transmissions to the more susceptible unvaccinated.

Harris County Emergency Services District 11 commissioners received updates on the status of its upcoming ambulances services at a July 22 board meeting. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 commissioners discuss upcoming ambulance service

The district will take over providing emergency medical services across more than 177 square miles of north Harris County, currently being provided by Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services, on Sept. 1.

School starts Aug. 23 in Cy-Fair ISD. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Here is when students in Cy-Fair ISD return for the 2021-22 school year

The start of the school year is just around the corner.

Jersey Village City Council proposed a budget that includes increases for the fire and police department. (Courtesy city of Jersey Village)
Jersey Village proposes allocating more funding for fire, police salaries in fiscal year 2021-22 budget

About $5.5 million is designated for city fire and police department compensation in the proposed 2021-22 budget.

Memorial Hermann has locations throughout the Greater Houston area, including Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center. (Courtesy Memorial Hermann)
Memorial Hermann visiting policies change as COVID-19 cases rise

As of July 21, Memorial Hermann has changed its visitor policy in light of a recent increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Greater Houston area.

Houston unemployment is above state and national levels, while home sales in the region continue to be strong, according to a July 21 economic update from the Greater Houston Partnership. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
Unemployment, strong housing sales mark 2021 Houston economy, Greater Houston Partnership says

While Houston job recovery lags due to the pandemic, area home sales are strong, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

Munzer Kabbara graduated from Cypress Woods High School this year and will be swimming for the Lebanon Olympic team. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
Look for these 5 Cy-Fair ISD alumni in the 2020 Summer Olympics

Former Cy-Fair ISD athletes will be going for the gold represeting the United States, Lebanon and Nigeria.