The boom in online shopping is challenging the logistics sector

Whether clothes, food, or building materials for DIY – the coronavirus pandemic has turned most people in Germany into online shoppers. That has also meant more customers for the transport and logistics companies. Most goods are transported by road to their destination: Three-quarters of all goods transported in Germany are moved by truck.

Once work is over and you are back home on the sofa, or during those sleepless times at night: Reaching for your mobile and surfing the shopping pages is completely natural for most people. More and more Germans are ordering goods and services via the internet: 82 percent of the users aged between 16 and 74 have made a purchase online in the past year. That information comes from Eurostat, the European Statistical Office. 70 percent of German internet users ordered items of clothing online. 27 percent bought furniture, home accessories and garden equipment, while 26 percent bought printed books and newspapers and 24 percent sports equipment on the internet.

Coronavirus pandemic boosting e-commerce

E-commerce is one of the clear winners from the coronavirus crisis: In 2021, sales in the Business-to-Consumer area in Germany totaled EUR 86.7 billion, according to the Online Monitor published by the tade association Handelsverband Deutschland HDE. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the switch to e-commerce and altered the purchasing behavior of German consumers. According to statistics from the payment service provider Klarna, female customers in particular have increased their already high share for e-commerce shopping by a further seven percent in 2021: They now spend seven in every ten euros online. But increasing numbers of senior citizens are similarly discovering the advantages of online shopping: Consumers aged 66 and over increased their share of total online sales across all age groups by the biggest amount, around nine percent. Even if the lockdown times are behind us, anyone who has discovered the advantages of online shopping and has got used to them won’t want to give them up again in future.

Number one in German freight transport

Getting clothing and sports equipment purchased online to the customer, food to the supermarket, or raw materials to the factory – the goods generally reach their destination via road. According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt), 3.55 million commercial vehicles are registered in Germany. Trucks are still the number 1 in German freight transport, well ahead of the train, planes, and ships. The Federal Statistical Office figures show that, in 2020, around three quarters (74.6 percent) of all freight transportation was provided by truck, or around 487.4 billion ton-kilometers. While truck transport fell by 2.3 percent in 2020 (the coronavirus year) compared to 2019, over the long term (compared to 2005) it has increased by 21 percent.

Full shopping bags via online shopping: female customers increased their already high e-commerce share by a further seven percent in 2021 Photo: Pixaby / Preis_King

Key for the last mile to the destination

Road freight transport is characterized by high flexibility: Practically any destination can be reached straightforwardly via well-developed roads – and thanks to new technologies such as battery electric powertrains, hydrogen, or e-fuels, it is becoming increasingly more sustainable. According to the study  “Unlocking Electric Trucking in the EU: recharging in cities” by the clean transport campaign group Transport & Environment, the routes traveled by half of all trucks transporting goods in the EU are shorter than 300 kilometers. According to the authors, a large number of these trips could be handled by electric trucks.  By 2030, all trips between two places less than 400 kilometers away from one another could be managed without the use of the combustion engine, and 42.7 percent of all trips could be electric.

The greatest potential here lies in urban goods transport, because on shorter routes and with house-to-house deliveries, the battery electric drive can play to its strengths – and do so at comparable cost to deliveries using a diesel vehicle. That is the conclusion reached by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) in their study “Electrifying last-mile delivery”, as they compared total costs of ownership (TCO) for both types of powertrain for last-mile deliveries in Berlin, Paris, Rome, London, Warsaw, and Amsterdam. The result? Whether undertaking last-mile deliveries with a battery electric or a diesel vehicle, the expenditures remained the same. That’s good news for customers and residents. Because the air quality improves and the traffic noise drops if e-vehicles make the deliveries.