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Rural areas risk being forgotten in e-commerce

Mailbox in countryside
As more and more e-commerce services are adapted for cities, rural areas risk being forgotten. Photo: Unsplash/David Baraldi

What does online shopping mean for those living in rural areas? A lot, according to researchers in logistics at Lund University. Poorer access to products and services in the countryside makes shopping online an important option. But with an increasing number of e-business services adapted to big cities, rural areas risk being forgotten.

E-commerce and logistic services generally work well for those who live in urban areas. Products are delivered straight to your door – quickly, flexibly, and with low transport costs. The same options are not always available in rural areas. It is more difficult for customers to make individualized delivery choices, and some products cannot be ordered and delivered to those living outside of cities.

“Rural e-shoppers are one of the fastest growing consumer groups, but their needs are often invisible in the industry’s business models,” says Yulia Vakulenko, a researcher in packaging logistics at Lund University. 

Yulia Vakulenko is currently working with trade and logistics researchers at Lund University and universities in Denmark, Italy, Norway and the Czech Republic. Their research is about how consumer needs, purchasing behaviours and quality of life are affected by where they live. Consumers living in cities and in the countryside will answer survey questions about their buying habits and how satisfied they are with the e-services available.

The research study is expected to be finished in 2022, but one of the first sub-studies shows that there are differences between metropolitan and rural areas, and not just in Sweden; they are also present in the other countries included in the research project.

“According to the survey responses so far, countryside consumers are satisfied with a lower level of service that their city counterparts,” Yulia explains.

The diversity of offers available in a city’s range of products and delivery services is based on that population’s needs and expectations. The business model that works for cities is not applicable to rural areas.

“As a result, e-commerce solutions for cities with express transport do not suit rural areas, whether that's based on the demands of countryside customers or from a climate perspective,” says Yulia Vakulenko.

The picture the researchers share is that a successful business model – that is profitable for commercial and logistics companies while being sustainable for rural areas – also takes into consideration the rural environment and conditions. The lower expectations and demands of rural areas for service and accessibility do not mean that e-commerce is not necessary, rather quite the opposite, according to the researchers.

Yulia Vakulenko and her research colleagues are now continuing their project on consumer attitudes towards logistics and e-commerce. The hope is to contribute to improved e-commerce solutions that are sustainable and that work well for all consumers, independent of where they live.   

Study on consumer attitudes toward e-commerce

Do you want to participate in a survey on how consumer needs, buying behaviours and quality of life are affected by where you live? The study is being carried out by trade and logistics researchers at Lund University and at universities in Denmark, Italy, Norway and the Czech Republic. Answering the questions in the survey takes about 7-10 minutes. The survey can be found here.