RPI: Pandemic Driven Home Delivery Unlikely to Last
February 10, 2022
Influential new research can help inform shipping policies and
like Instacart, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Amazon certainly existed before
the COVID-19 pandemic. However, demand for groceries, food, and other
products purchased online and delivered directly to your door
substantially increased when the coronavirus forced many Americans to
stay at home. But just how much has the demand for deliveries increased,
who uses the services, what kind of products are being delivered, and
perhaps most importantly, will this increase in usage last? Researchers
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are answering these questions to aid
policymakers and transportation logistics planners.
In the first comprehensive study investigating the initial adoption and
continuance intention of delivery services during a pandemic, Cara Wang,
an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental
Engineering at Rensselaer, found that over 90% of people who use online
delivery services would likely revert back to their original way of
“It is likely that the increased use of e-commerce is not the result of
market competition, where the most efficient competitor outperforms the
others,” Dr. Wang said. “Rather, an external disruption — the pandemic —
significantly altered the playing field. Once this external effect is
removed, some of the gains made by the delivery services will likely
Using a survey method and computer modeling, Dr. Wang determined that
not all delivery products are the same, nor do all consumers use
delivery services in the same way.
Dr. Wang identified four distinct types of users: non-adopters, prior
adopters, temporary new adopters, and permanent new adopters. And
delivery-service users access products in four different categories:
groceries, food, home goods, and other items.
The research showed that both the initial adoption of delivery services
and the intent to continue using them varies by goods type. Grocery
deliveries had the highest proportion of new adopters, followed by home
goods, food, and, finally, other packages. These results imply that the
COVID-19 pandemic had a larger impact on the purchase opportunities for
essential items than less essential items.
The study also found what while the number of users for grocery
deliveries increased by 113% during COVID, almost half of these new
adopters would not continue to use it once the pandemic is over.
Temporary new adopters accounted for a larger portion than the permanent
new adopters for essential items, while there were more permanent new
adopters for less essential items.
findings are essential for investigating the impacts of the pandemic and
predicting future demand.
“Answering these questions is essential to estimate the current and
future demand for deliveries,” said José Holguín-Veras, director of the
Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at
Rensselaer and a co-author of the paper. “Transportation professionals
and researchers have assumed that people would still rely on delivery
services even after the COVID crisis is over. However, in reality,
consumers’ technology acceptance is much more dynamic and complex during
a pandemic than during normal conditions. Understanding these nuanced
behaviors is essential for sound transportation policy making.”
The paper, “Adoption of delivery services in light of the COVID
pandemic: Who and how long?” was also co-authored by Woojung Kim and
Joshua Schmidt, both doctoral students in the Department of Civil and
Environmental Engineering at Rensselaer.