E-commerce and territories : new use of space, new planning issues at stake
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From its modest beginnings in the early 1990s, online commerce is but a vague memory in people’s minds today. Consumers were for many years divided between refusal, wariness and curiosity but eventually were won over. Statistics, and there are many of them, reveal the appetite of the connected client. In France, the third largest market in Europe after the United Kingdom and Germany, almost three out of four Internet users are cyber-consumers and the amount they spend on the growing number of purchases made is in constant increase (1 500 euros on average per client in 2014). Internet purchasing is now an essential part of consumer behaviour alongside the traditional marketing formats. The consequences of these changes in consumer codes have been properly addressed on the economic front in terms of market shares, levels of activity, jobs created etc. in this industry. There have been few studies, however, and little work and research done to present a reading from the perspective of their manifestations at a territorial level.
If online selling, just as "the electronisation of commerce" described as early as 2001 by Alain RALLET, are responsible for a renewed connection to the act of purchasing, these practices are also strong expressions that can be apprehended and deciphered in view of structural changes in the operations of the commercial system, its placing in a spatial context or the organisation of flows – mobility for reasons of individuals’ purchasing and the delivery of orders - for example, without of course this list being an exhaustive one. The call for papers falls specifically within the scope of this perspective in order to envisage the relationship between e-commerce and territories from the angle of new practices in a spatial context and the issues of planning associated with them. Four entries are given priority.
With the development of online purchasing, a fear has arisen concerning what will become of physical retail outlets and that it heralds the end of small businesses. Orders made on specialised sites can be interpreted first and foremost as a potential factor of customers’ disaffection to the detriment of stores and shops. This fear is a legitimate one and the shift must therefore be measured. The question of the figures available for grasping the trends is the first field of investigation. Methodological examination is needed to address the phenomenon at the commercial system level, its evolutions and territorial inclusion in both the short and long term. The question of rewriting buying journeys under the impetus of e-commerce should also be envisaged so as to analyse the place held by the different distribution channels and points of sale for private individuals’ supplies and equipment. Several hypotheses can be put forward, from the hijacking of the customer who has become a captive audience of exclusive online purchasing to a more composite journey including online shops, franchised retail outlets and local shops for personal goods; click and collect facilities at large retailers, local producers, convenience stores and open-air markets for grocery shopping, for example. From an understanding of these individual practices some dominant trends have emerged with valuable lessons to be learnt about the changes at work and the future of the commercial system present on the ground.
Be it a proven risk or a supposed threat, e-commerce can also be understood as an opportunity to renew the activity of the traditional players in physical selling. A certain number of players at least seems to consider it to be so and has developed an online offer that has become an essential requirement for limiting a substantial displacement of trade and if possible capture a new clientele. A large number of initiatives has emerged in the local e-commerce category, set up mostly by associations of small independent traders (achetezaupuy.com, shoppingmons.be, sceaux-shopping.com, etc.) or more modestly by private operators on the principle of online reference services (localismarket.fr). Aside from the gathering of experiences, few elements make it possible today to assess the impact of this new mode of marketing products available in stores on visitor numbers in small shops. Between maintaining the anticipated level of activity and the expected increase in appeal, many trajectories are forming and defining the outline to a possible future for retail trade that must now be deciphered.
Two elements for entries are envisaged as a priority. The first approaches e-commerce as a vector for the development of new commercial circuits as expressed through the generic figure of click and collect facilities or constituted networks, of both producers and consumers, for example. If in the first instance it attracted the large retailers, the principle of the collection point dedicated to the car is today available in many forms. Farm click and collect facilities are an unusual expression of this form of buying in which there is often a shift closer to customers, providing them with produce in their places of mobility. Supermarket car parks, motorway service stations or toll gates have become shopping areas enabling customers to collect their orders each week. The status of the producers themselves is undergoing a change. Some of them are turning into new marketing players, others are modernising their practices of selling direct from the farm. Meanwhile other players are emerging and are making the retail landscape even more complex. Consumer groups have also been set up, sometimes on an independent basis, mostly in the framework of formalised networks (laruchequiditoui.fr). They convey implicitly the strong ambition for automatisation on the part of consumers regarding traditional retail channels, now made easier through the use of digital technology. Each of these initiatives – others can also be chosen as subjects for research – represent the response of a family of players to an uncommon issue (dependence on the major retailers for the sale of food products, the high cost or low purchasing price of products, and so on). They all, at their level, leave a mark on the territory by contributing to the redefinition of the retail offer and purchasing practices.
A second interpretation considers e-commerce as a possible leverage for the sector’s players and their strategies for redeploying retail outlets, in particular within urban spaces. If the introduction of digital technology can radically modify the customer’s buying experience, its integration on the part of professionals in the definition of their offer could significantly modify their presence in town. To this logic of enhancing the online offer can be associated strategies for refocusing the activity at points of sale on high value-added products, displayed in smaller size premises. These developments that are envisaged by some retailers will entail a wider discussion of the e-commerce question, relative to the possible place and form of the future of high street retailers. Different trajectories can be explored here. Greater presence of retail names by opening smaller formats outside the large conurbations according to the logic of territorial networking is the first possibility. The removal of existing facilities which have become too large in favour of smaller size shops with lower operating costs is a second hypothesis that also posits the secondary question of the development of the commercial dynamic in the spaces abandoned by retail brands that guaranteed their appeal. In a slightly different register and aside from the central districts alone, the sudden appearance of click and collect facilities in the large scale distribution landscape can be analysed from the same angle as the territorial effects of electronic commerce. Several questions have arisen now that the deployment phase has been completed. The impact on visitor numbers at the large supermarket chains and those of the competition have been properly evaluated today but there are now good grounds for extending the investigations to the facilities’ surrounding area. What sort of visitor numbers can be expected in the shopping malls in the future when customers are relieved of the necessity to visit supermarkets because of the click and collect facilities that have developed around them? What impact will there be on the dynamism of the nearby retail parks? Parallel forward planning should be initiated to consider scenarios for the development of a business offer around these click and collect facilities designed for the automobile. The appearance of new services within the facilities themselves, based on electronic commerce (for instance, a deposit system for collecting online orders) or otherwise, represents an initial area of research to be explored. Ad hoc initiatives have been observed but between opportunistic postures and an emerging movement the question arises of the "skills improvement" that will come from click and collect facilities. A second stage of analysis specifically questions the Click and Collect format as a possible element in commercial urban planning around which new forms of distribution could emerge, developed exclusively for the mobile customer and that still need to be defined.
During its early development, electronic commerce gained momentum in a simple, almost unique way: an online order was placed from a land line, usually from home, sometimes from work or from the collection point followed by delivery to the home or collection point. The sole presence of pure-players in this still emergent distribution channel and its development with no facilities other than the new players’ warehouses alone are both the cause and the explanation. A lesser mobility could have been added to these buying practices, notably towards business areas. Various research studies, however, soon told a very different story. It is therefore not so much an issue of limited movement but far more a re-composition of mobility through the impetus of e-commerce that can be examined from different points of view. One point of view concerns the effects induced on the relationship of the customer connected to the space, namely through the development of a "road trade", the hallmarks of which are the farm click and collect facilities and supermarket chains, without these facilities being the only ones that need exploring. Rewriting the buying itineraries driven by the hybridisation of marketing positions should also be deciphered as a factor of renewal in travel practices and number of visits to sales outlets. Often seen as combining competition and complementarity between "click and mortar", the introduction of digital technology into all levels of buying and selling undoubtedly redefines the relationship between customers and physical trade and their travel practices to these facilities. Understanding, measuring, deciphering, qualifying and representing these changes has become a necessity. Beyond the marketing tool, multi and trans-channel tools increasingly empower consumers when designing their commercial itineraries and inevitably also possess strong spatial translations that are as yet little known. Between facilities devoted to e-commerce (click and collect facilities) and multi-format marketing, customers assemble, compile, and build new behavioural practices and readjust them according to their requirements, desires as well as constraints, in a reciprocal relationship in which their personal and professional mobility determines their behaviour and the places they shop on the one hand; where the retail offer based on digital technology dictates their journeys for the purpose of shopping on the other hand. The accelerated growth of m-commerce that can currently be observed in Europe – online spending via a mobile could, according to very recent forecasts (study RetailMeNot - February 2015), almost double compared to 2014 to reach 44.9 billion euros – and the catching-up process in this sector being enacted in France from its cautious beginnings posits with redoubled force the question of redefining commercial journeys of customers and their implementation in mobility situations.
The final entry focuses on the dimension which is perhaps the least visible in electronic commerce despite the essential role it plays in the very existence of this form of distribution. The delivery of goods ordered and the modalities of its implementation in effect appear decisive in many respects. They determine to a large extent, and aside from the article itself, the degree of customer satisfaction and are crucial to the success of an online offer. Lengthy delivery times, high costs as well as major constraints (the requirement to be at home) appear as so many motives for the customer to shift to competing offers. All these expectations are so many constraints for the trade, logistics and transport players, so many factors also to integrate into the choice of their facilities’ location (warehouses for the former, platforms for the latter), the definition of logistics chains and making deliveries. There are different choices regarding the strategies and organisational modes selected. Trade-offs must be carried out and they all possess strong translations at a territorial scale, the measure of which needs to be taken. From the consumers’ point of view, all that counts is that they receive their orders. Today, this occurs principally via home delivery and collection from pick-up points. Even if customer expectation is satisfied, this practice is also a source of constraints and dysfunctions, with every place of residence becoming a possible delivery point, possibly several times on the same day. The rise in e-commerce thus poses the more urgent and crucial question of transport of goods in town and broadens the already wide discussion on urban logistics. Many alternatives to home delivery alone are being developed around technical amenities (deposits, air locks etc.), services (concierge service, etc.) or new methods (delivery to the workplace). All of these offers require a new delivery organisation and influence mobility for buying purposes. They also lead to a new relationship to the territory, for all the players concerned, and a redefinition when placing their journeys in a spatial context. An interpretation of the dynamics at work, based on observations in the field, would help to gain a better understanding of the reality of how they operate. In the same field of urban logistics, the click and collect supply practices of the major retailers can also be explored. Driven by the strategy of siting installations in strategic zones, the “star-shaped” click and collect facilities and collecting points operate on the principle of regular deliveries from facilities of the same type located on the periphery of towns. The latter, mainly the Solos type, is sometimes based on the offer proposed by a supermarket so as not to reduce its stocks. Regular, renewed flows throughout the day according to demand correspond to these organisations and aside from home deliveries are another tangible expression of electronic commerce with regard to urban logistics. Aside from the extra traffic that they represent, which cannot be overlooked, these movements contribute to a certain number of operational, organisational and environmental dysfunctions observed in town that must also be taken into account with a view to apprehending the impact of electronic commerce in and on territories.
This special issue is envisaged as an original basis of knowledge of the spatial effects and territorial issues associated with electronic commerce and its development. The four entries proposed have been selected as so many nodal points on this blueprint in which comparative views have also been approved. Articles which, a priori, do not fall within one of these entries but remain in conformity with the project’s editorial line can be proposed for assessment.
Papers submitted, length 15 to 20 pages.
As a supplement to scientific papers, this column contains research notes that do not have the status of articles assessed in a double-blind study but nevertheless represent an interest for their innovative character or the quality of the topic concerned and the paths envisaged. The pieces are shorter than the papers (5 to 10 pages) i.e. between 10000 and 15000 characters which must provide a useful complement to this special issue’s thematic. This type of contribution is also welcomed so as to enable the reader to understand the issues at stake or in the interest of prolonging exploration in the framework of future research.
- 15 March 2015: Call for contributions.
- 15 June 2015: Submission of proposals.
- 1 September 2015: Assessment of proposals.
- December 2015: Publication of issue.
Scientific papers and scientific notes can be published in French and/or English.
Procedures concerning format are available on: http://netcom.revues.org/956