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Online Shopping Could Change the Way Cities Operate

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Monday, January 2, 2017   

SEATTLE -- There's been a massive amount of consumer spending over the holidays this year, but it's likely that online shopping is the source of the uptick.

Online sales on Black Friday were up 22 percent in 2016 over 2015 sales, topping a record $3.3 billion. What will all the trend toward more online sales - and consumers' expectations of faster delivery times - do to America's cities?

That's where the newly created Urban Freight Lab at the University of Washington comes in. The lab's director, Barbara Ivanov, said cities still manage loading zones with an old technology: a stripe of yellow paint.

"And a lot of times when you look around, all the inventory at the curb is sitting empty,” Ivanov said; "and it could be used more efficiently, more effectively, if we actually had applied more technology to the way that piece of space, that piece of real estate, operates."

Over the next three years, the Urban Freight Lab is collaborating with Seattle's Department of Transportation - which contributed $285,000 to the lab for its research. The lab also is partnering with companies such as FedEx, Costco and Nordstrom, as well as the U.S. Postal Service.

The lab will begin its research with what it calls the "Final 50 Feet" challenge of deliveries. This includes everything from ensuring packages are secure from "porch pirates" to the many facets of commercial deliveries.

Ivanov said if she could start over with the design of a city, she would make sure the city had good alleyways.

"You don't want all this going on, this sort of commercial activity, through the front door of a retail center,” she said. "You want it out of sight, you want more of an environment at the street level that's really friendly to pedestrians and other folks out doing their shopping and going to the office."

E-commerce is likely to continue to rise across the country in the coming years. An online UPS study this summer found that, for the first time, respondents bought more than half of their goods online.

Seattle is home to Amazon, which accounts for the largest slice of online shopping sales.




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