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STATUS: Complete YEAR: 2018 TOPIC AREA: Sustainability, energy, and health CENTER: MetroFreight

Shopping, freight deliveries, and urban form

Project Summary

Project number: MF-5.1e

Funding source: Volvo Research and Educational Foundations

Performance period: 1/1/2018 to 12/31/2018


Project description
The purpose of this project is to explore the relationship between household shopping behavior, freight deliveries, and urban form.  We explore shopping behavior as an indirect means for understanding the associated freight deliveries. In previous work we have argued that density, a proxy for urban form, affects the behavior of both households and firms.  Firms economize on space by allocating less space per worker, minimizing storage space, and other strategies.  In the case of retailing, high land values necessitate more revenue per square foot, more rapid turnover of product, and less space devoted to storage, compared to retail activities in lower density environments.  Households also economize on space in response to high land values.  Dwelling units are smaller and inventory capacity is limited.  More shopping trips are taken by walking or public transit, constraining the amount of goods that can be carried home. This suggests that controlling for demographic characteristics, households in high density areas will shop more frequently.  The effect of shopping in smaller lots on freight deliveries is uncertain, because for the retailer the critical trade-off is between inventory holding and revenue generating space.  If shopping is inconvenient, there is more incentive to shop online.  More online shopping would clearly lead to more home deliveries and more freight trips.


Our main hypothesis is that shopping behavior is related to urban density.  More specifically, we expect that: 1) online shopping frequency is positively associated with urban density; 2) in store shopping frequency is positively associated with urban density; and 3) out of home consumption activity is positively associated with urban density.  The effect of these relationships is to increase the per capita rate of freight deliveries, which helps to explain the greater concentration of freight deliveries in central city cores.  We use the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, a national survey that includes a one-day travel diary for every member of the household over the age of 5 years to test these hypotheses.


Genevieve Giuliano
Professor; Margaret and John Ferraro Chair in Effective Local Government; Senior Associate Dean for Research and Technology; Director, METRANS , Sol Price School of Public Policy
650 Childs Way
Ralph and Goldy Lewis Hall (RGL) 216Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626
United States
[email protected]

Quan Yuan
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of City and Regional Planning
New East Building
CB #3140Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3140
United States
[email protected]


Sanggyun Kang
Postdoctoral Research Associate, College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs
601 W. Nedderman Drive
Suite 203Arlington, TX 76019-0108
United States
[email protected]