Unequal access to home delivery services

Chalmers University of Technology

​The pandemic has revealed large variations in the accessibility to goods via online home delivery services. Those who may have the greatest need – such as the elderly in rural areas – have the least access. However, the new research from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, also shows a distinct improvement during the pandemic.

​The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for home delivery of various types of goods, pharmacy products and food. But access to the services is not equal. The new study from Chalmers, published in the scientific journal Transport Policy, shows that marginalized groups have less chances of using online home delivery services.
“The results confirmed that online home delivery services were designed for homogeneous market segments, such as urban young citizens with medium to high income”, says Associate Professor Ivan Sanchez-Diaz, who directed the study together with colleagues Associate Professor Ceren Altuntas Vural and Professor Árni Halldórsson at the Department of Technology Management and Economics.
The research was conducted as a regional case study in Sweden. Selected geographic areas were linked to demographic indicators of the population, such as age, citizenship, education level and income. The data was later analysed together with the geographical coverage of logistics service providers during two occasions – the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 and the third wave of the pandemic in April 2021.
“The data from the spring of 2020 showed a market failure. Lack of accessibility to online home delivery services was determined by the location, which was compounded with certain demographic characteristics: older population, lower income and lower level of education”, says Ceren Altuntas Vural.
The proximity to a major city is a factor explaining accessibility. However, there were some areas within the city municipality with low access, and that tend to overlap with older population, and lower income. Simultaneously, some zones with high income outside the municipality have acceptable access to home delivery services.

Improvements during the pandemic

The second data set from April 2021 indicated that the coverage was improved, so there were some learnings from the pandemic. After the first two waves of the pandemic, the main changes were seen in pharmacies that went from 62% to 99% of coverage in home deliveries, and food that went from about 40% to 60% in coverage. In terms of parcels, small logistics players grew significantly both in scale and in scope of their home delivery services.
“This study shows the necessity of an inclusive service design. Logistics service providers and companies that want to provide home delivery services to their customers should not think that ‘one size fits all’. They need to increase focus on social sustainability and make sure that the services are designed in a way that enables accessibility to goods, even if the social status or location of certain customer groups lead to some market disadvantages”, says Árni Halldórsson.

Lessons for companies and society

The researchers present some key learning points from the pandemic that can help companies to design more inclusive services:
  • Offering non-digital alternatives for payment, as not everyone has access to digital ID or payment services.
  • Deliveries to pick-up points, although more efficient and environmentally sustainable, can be a challenge for people with limited mobility or when there is a risk of contagion so they may not be sufficient in terms of access to goods.
  • Retailers and pharmacies should coordinate with different logistics companies to find ways to reach all customers at home in a cost-effective way. Also, when conditions do not allow for a cost-effective home delivery service, there should be a public or social organization that enable home delivery for the vulnerable population.
“The study’s conclusions are also important for policy makers, particularly for those who design public services for the elderly or people with certain disadvantages. There are a lot of potential synergies between business logistics activities and public services. A collaboration between these actors might yield to more inclusive and efficient home delivery logistics services”, Ivan Sanchez-Diaz concludes.
The researchers will continue their studies, including a greater focus on inequality in home deliveries of food.
Forskarna vid Chalmers

The researchers Ivan Sanchez-Diaz, Ceren Altuntas Vural and Árni Halldórsson, Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers.

About the study

The researchers conducted a case study in Västra Götaland region of Sweden. A sample of postal codes within this region were selected for the analysis. Then some demographic indicators of the population registered to these postal codes were collected from national statistics. These indicators included age, citizenship, education level and income.
The data was later analysed together with the geographical coverage of home delivery services provided by three logistics service providers that deliver parcels and two pharmacies that deliver prescribed drugs. Data was collected twice, during the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 and the third wave of the pandemic in April 2021.

Text: Daniel Karlsson

Photo: Chalmers / CFFC (portrait, USDA – public domain (illustration photo)

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