The purpose of this research is to explore consumers’ online shopping and in-person shopping travel behaviors and the factors affecting these behaviors within the geographical context of the study area of West Seattle.
West Seattle is a peninsula located southwest of downtown Seattle, Washington State. In March 2020, the West Seattle High Bridge, the main bridge connecting the peninsula to the rest of the city, was closed to traffic due to its increased rate of structural deterioration. The closure resulted in most of the traffic being re-distributed across other bridges, forcing many travelers to re-route their trips in and out of the peninsula. At about the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic caused business-shuttering lockdowns. Both events fundamentally changed the nature of shopping and the urban logistics system of the study area.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) engaged the Urban Freight Lab (UFL) at the University of Washington to conduct research to understand current freight movements and goods demands in West Seattle and identify challenges related to the bridge closure to inform data-driven mitigation strategies. The study took place in two phases: the first phase documented the challenges experienced by local businesses and carriers through a series of interviews and quantified the freight trip generated by land use in the case study area1 ; the second phase, described in the current report, performed an online survey to understand online shopping and in-person shopping travel behaviors for West Seattle residents.
The main objectives of the current study are twofold:
- Describe online shopping and shopping travel consumer behaviors for West Seattle residents.
- Understand what factors influence consumer shopping behaviors, from accessibility to local stores, to the characteristics of goods purchased, to socio-economic factors.
To address these objectives, the research team designed an online questionnaire that was advertised through a West Seattle Bridge Closure-related SDOT newsletter and other local online media outlets during the spring and summer of 2022. The questionnaire asked respondents about their socioeconomic conditions (age, income, education, etc.), where they live and their access to transportation (vehicle ownership and types of vehicles), their online shopping behavior, the impact of the West Seattle High Bridge closure on their shopping habits, and about their most recent purchase for a given category of goods among clothing items, groceries, restaurant food, and household supplies. The questionnaire was collected anonymously, and no personally identifiable information was collected. A total of 1,262 responses were collected, and after data processing, the final sample data consisted of 919 responses, corresponding approximately to 1 percent of the study area population.
Comparing the socioeconomic characteristics of the sample with those of the West Seattle study population it should be noted that individuals identifying themselves as white and female and of older age were oversampled, while individuals with lower than a college degree and with annual income less than $50,000 were under-sampled. Therefore, the sample in general is more representative of a more affluent, older population.
The key findings are summarized as follows:
Online shopping is widespread for clothing items and restaurant food.
Respondents receive on average 5 deliveries per week, across all goods categories. 38.7 percent of the respondents reported performing their most recent shopping activity online, considering all goods categories. However, the frequency of online shopping varied across different goods categories. Most of the respondents that purchased groceries or household supplies reported having shopped in person (89 and 75 percent of the respondents respectively), while, in contrast, for those that purchased restaurant food and clothing items, two-thirds of respondents reported buying online in both categories. Online shopping is widespread in the clothing and restaurant food markets, but less in grocery and household supplies markets. Of the consumers that shopped online for restaurant food, 76 percent of them decided to travel to take out (also referred to as curbside pickup), and only 24 percent of them chose to have the meal delivered directly to their home.
Online shopping is more widespread among mobility-impaired individuals
Participants were asked whether they had a disability that limited physical activities such as carrying, walking, lifting, etc. Of the 918 participants, 98 (11%) responded that they did have a disability that fit this description. The share of respondents that shop online was higher among mobility-impaired individuals (30 percent online for delivery and 19 percent online for pick-up) compared to individuals that did not report any mobility impairment (23 percent online for delivery and 12 percent online for pick-up).
Driving is the predominant shopping travel mode
Of the sample of respondents, 96 percent reported having access to a motorized vehicle within their household. Driving is also the most common shopping mode of in-person travel, with 81.3 percent of respondents reporting that they drove to a store to shop. Walking is a distant second preferred shopping travel mode, with 13.1 percent of respondents reporting having walked to a store. Biking and public transit were rarely adopted as a shopping travel mode, together they were observed 5.6 percent of the time. Though included as a travel option, only 1 participant reported using a rideshare vehicle to shop.
Electrification in West Seattle
Of the respondents that have access to a motorized vehicle in their households, 9.8 percent of them reported owning an electric vehicle. Car ownership is much more widespread than bike ownership, with 51.6 percent of the respondents reporting having access to a bike. Among these, 15.5 percent of them said that at least one of their bikes is electric.
The 10-minute city
The average walking time across all types of goods purchased was 10 minutes. The average driving time, for those respondents that reported driving to a store, was also about 10 minutes, except for those who reported purchasing clothing items, which reported on average of 27-minute trip time (both using a private car or using public transit). The longest travel times are seen mostly for respondents that took public transit as a shopping travel mode.
Living in proximity to stores reduces driving and online deliveries
A higher number of stores within a 10-minute walking distance (0.5 miles) is correlated with a higher number of consumers choosing to walk to a store, compared to those that chose to drive to a store or that shopped online. This is true across all goods types, but it is more significantly seen in grocery shopping. Moreover, accessibility to commercial establishments at a walking distance has a stronger impact on reducing the likelihood of driving, and at a lesser magnitude, reduces the propensity of shopping online.
Delivery to the doorstep is the most common destination for online deliveries
For those that chose to buy online, the most common delivery destination was at the respondents’ home doorstep (84 percent of respondents reported receiving online deliveries at home). The second most frequently used delivery destination was parcel lockers (15 percent of respondents), with 12 percent of respondents making use of private lockers, while only 3 percent made use of public lockers. The remaining one percent received deliveries at other destinations (e.g. office or nearby store).
The West Seattle High Bridge closure incentivized local shopping
When asked about the impacts of the West Seattle Bridge closure on individual online and shopping travel behaviors, more respondents reported buying more locally and online, vs. traveling farther for shopping and buying in person.
Goodchild, A., Dalla Chiara, G., Verma, R., Rula, K. (2023) Analysis of Online Shopping and Shopping Travel Behaviors in West Seattle, Urban Freight Lab.