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Does e-commerce affect the amount of travel in the United States?

by Michael Sivak.

Recently, the amount of retail e-commerce in the United States increased rapidly in terms of both the absolute volume and the percentage of all sales. For example, retail e-commerce sales during the fourth quarter of 2007 totaled $36.2 billion (in current dollars), or 3.5% of all retail sales. During the fourth quarter of 2017 retail e-commerce sales totaled $119.0 billion, or 9.1% of all retail sales. This analysis examined whether one can discern any influence of the growth of e-commerce on the amount of travel.

The data for this analysis came from ATUS—the American Time Use Survey. ATUS is an annual time-diary study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides nationally representative estimates of the amount of time people spend doing various activities. Of interest in this study were the following three variables from ATUS related to “purchasing goods and services.”

  • Average time spent traveling per day for all persons in connection with purchasing goods and services

  • Average percentages of persons traveling per day in connection with purchasing goods and services

  • Average time spent traveling per day for persons who traveled in connection with purchasing goods and services

The data used are for persons 15 years of age and older, and they apply to all days of the week. The years analyzed were 2007 and 2017 (the latest available survey year).

The table below shows the results of the analysis related to travel in connection with purchasing goods and services. The values in the parentheses are standard errors.


Given the sizes of the standard errors, none of the three variables of interest showed a statistically significant difference between 2007 and 2017.

In conclusion:

  • This analysis did not detect any statistically significant changes from 2007 to 2017 in the amount of travel in connection with purchasing goods and services or in the percentage of persons traveling in connection with these activities.

  • This finding does not preclude the possibility that statistically significant changes would have been present for traveling in connection with purchasing goods and services if this broad group were to exclude goods and services that cannot be purchased online (e.g., purchasing gasoline).

Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.


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