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Docks to Doors

As I wrote recently, I did most of my Christmas shopping this year via Amazon. I didn't visit stores to scout out ideas for gifts; I did all of my research and buying online. According to this article in The New York Times, consumer spending online in November and December is up 25-30 percent over the comparable period last year, which is fairly amazing growth given how high online sales are already. It seems I'm one of millions with the same idea: avoid the malls and shop online.

Last year, I blogged an interview on NPR with the author of an article on "wells to wheels" efficiency -- looking at energy efficiency in automobiles from a whole-system approach, including the energy costs of removing oil from the ground, refining it, transporting it to gas stations, and then ultimately using it in cars.

With the "wells to wheels" concept in mind, what is the whole-system efficiency of finding and purchasing something online versus finding and purchasing it at the mall? It's a difficult question to even frame properly due to all the variables involved. If buying online, how many items am I purchasing for the same shipment? How quickly are they being delivered? If buying at the mall, how many items am I buying on the same trip? How far away is the mall? What is the fuel efficiency of my car?

One way to set up the question would be to look at typical answers to these questions and use those answers as the values. In other words, how many items does the typical online purchaser buy for a single shipment, and how are they typically delivered? How many items does a typical mall shopper buy on a single trip, how far away is the typical mall, and what is the typical fuel efficiency of American cars?

With answers to these questions, we could then compare the whole-system energy efficiency of online shopping to mall shopping. In other words, we could ask not about "wheels to wells", which is known, but about "docks to doors", which isn't -- unless this has already been researched. Has it?


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