Increasing numbers of people in the United States were shopping online, even before COVID hit. In 2019 alone, according to U.S. Department of Commerce figures, people spent more than $600 billion online with US merchants. This is up from about $524 billion in 2018, a 14.9% increase.
Then, the pandemic hit.
Some people began sheltering in place, either voluntarily or because of a mandate, and turned to ecommerce shopping. Still others greatly reduced the amount of time they spent in public places, making online shopping more practical. No matter the reasons why more people began shopping with clicks, rather than physical carts, this significantly added to online shopping trends already in progress.
In fact, according to DigitalCommerce360.com, when comparing online sales in the United States in June 2019 and June 2020, this year’s sales figures are up 76.2%!
How shoppers will respond when the pandemic recedes is impossible to predict, with certainty—but that doesn’t mean that experts aren’t making predictions. Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, believes that “even when stores start to reopen, the pandemic will have left an indelible footprint on how consumer-facing businesses operate.”
People who normally didn’t shop online before COVID will have discovered how buying online:
- streamlines product searches
- makes it easy to read customer reviews before buying
- eliminates the need for standing in checkout lines (or, getting stuck in traffic)
Wharton predicts that retailers who manage multi-channel operations, going forward, will likely benefit the most. Let’s face it, it can be hard to convince yourself to dive into a traffic jam or go out in a thunderstorm after you’ve experienced “online shopping and home delivery.” So, even if people do return to shopping more often in physical stores, we agree that online shopping will be used more than it was, pre-pandemic.
Changing Face of Work
“The outbreak of Covid-19 has forced organizations into perhaps the most significant social experiment of the future of work in action, with work from home and social distancing policies radically changing the way we work and interact. But the impact on work is far more profound than just changing where people work; it is also fundamentally altering what work is performed and how we perform it.” (Harvard Business Review)
It would take a deep dive to even begin to analyze how COVID is changing the workplace, perhaps doing so permanently. So, we’ll stick close to one sub-topic—that of increased demand for distribution services because of online shopping trends in the United States.
Distribution Centers: Desirable Elements
Ideally, a distribution center will be easily reached—including by highways, air, waterway ports, and other modes of transportation. The center will be new enough to have cutting-edge technologies to streamline operations, located where there are plenty of employable people—enough to cover shifts, 24/7, if needed. Plus, there needs to be a place for distribution centers to be built or expanded, as business growth occurs.
That sounds like . . . Ocala.
Centrally located along I-75 (a highway that 70% of Florida’s truck traffic uses), the Ocala International Airport is located just five miles west of the city. Plus, the PortMiami Deep Dredge Project was completed just a few years ago, which allows larger cargo ships to use the port.
There are plenty of build-to-suit distribution parks readily available, ideal for strategic-minded companies. As far as a pool of employees to choose from, the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership projects that there will be 400,000 people living here in 2025—and 500,000 in 2040.
Examples of New Business in Ocala FL
In 2019, Dollar Tree confirmed their plans for a mega-distribution center in Ocala. Expected to open in early August, this 500,000 square foot facility will employ 240 people in phase one. In phase two, when the building will be 1.3 million square feet in size, it is anticipated that this distribution center will employee 500 people. The average wage is expected to be more than $40,000.
In June 2020, the Chamber officially confirmed what had been an open secret: that Amazon would be building a distribution center in the Ocala/Marion County Commerce Park. Anticipated to open in the summer of 2021, this 617,000-square-foot distribution center will initially employ 120 to 150 people, with an anticipated workforce of 300 people. Starting pay will be $15 an hour.
Other distribution centers in the area already include Chewy.com, FedEx, and AutoZone.
In November 2019, Green Thumb Industries announced how it plans to locate its “cultivation, processing and distribution hub in Ocala” for medical marijuana products. The target date is the end of 2020. This company will lease part of the former manufacturing plant property for Mark III, investing $20 million or more in renovations. They anticipate job creation of around 100.
Plus, let’s face it. Stores use their distribution centers for more than just ecommerce. So, even if online shopping trends change in unexpected ways, with more people returning to physical stores, these new distribution centers are still vital hubs.
The Role Ocala Rental Properties Play
The wage range being offered at the new business in Ocala FL suggests that employees will be looking for a nice place to rent, rather than buying a home. This positions investors in the Ocala real estate market well, providing opportunities to rent their properties to people who are working at in-demand jobs.