What can you learn about ecommerce sales driving on the NJ Turnpike?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/hapabapa
Jul 28, 2020
Ron Margulis

I took my first business trip since March last week, driving from my office about 90 miles down the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia. The meeting itself was a glimpse into what we might expect for the next year or so — practically no physical interaction (we even collected our lunches one at a time), 10 feet between the tables and two huge monitors connecting us to colleagues from Canada and Europe, who we’d normally be with, organized the same way. There was lots of hand sanitizer.

Back to the trip. In what could only charitably be called a survey, I counted the brand names on the trucks I saw along the way, keeping a running tab on a little notepad. Scientific surveys always state the methodology, so it’s only right that this unscientific one does the same. I traveled to Philadelphia on Thursday morning between 6:00 and 8:00 and traveled back between 2:30 and 4:30. It also rained very hard for about 25 minutes on the way down, which may have lowered the numbers as I didn’t want to get into an accident and stopped counting.

Now the results.

I spotted 61 Amazon trucks, 17 from Walmart, a combined 27 UPS and FedEx trucks, five Costco trucks and three US Postal Service trucks on the way to Philadelphia. Heading home, I saw 67 Amazon trucks, about the same number of Walmart and UPS trucks as before, and a few more from FedEx and Costco. There were 128 Amazon trucks, 35 from Walmart, 28 from UPS, 18 from FedEx and 12 Costco trucks in total for the trip. I didn’t see any Target trucks either way.

As I emphasized, this is far from a proper survey. Target may run all its trucks overnight or use third-party firms. (I saw hundreds.) Other factors like timing, tolls, backhauling and even seasonality likely come into play.

So, what does all this mean?

For starters, it means that Amazon is moving a lot of product on the NJ Turnpike. Also, given that Walmart isn’t as strong in the Northeast as it is in other areas of the country, the lower number of trucks indicates it hasn’t made commensurate ecommerce inroads during the pandemic. Finally, while the majority of the product in Walmart and Costco trucks is destined for stores and only a small portion for digital sales, the exact opposite is true for Amazon, accentuating its online dominance.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which retailers do you think have made the most significant gains based on their ecommerce performance going back to March? What stands out to you about their operational performance?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Of the operators noted, they have all made excellent gains by one measure or another. Amazon of course in actual volume, Target and Walmart in percentage. "
"I think you also saw why Amazon’s online sales deliver no profit — as any remaining money was driving down the NJ Turnpike."
"Seriously, I’d say Amazon. What stands out is that they are operating on an entirely different profit model."

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7 Comments on "What can you learn about ecommerce sales driving on the NJ Turnpike?"


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Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

It is an interesting exercise and set of observations, but as Ron himself mentioned in the article the study is unscientific. We shouldn’t be drawing any conclusions or even forming an opinion. But I am mighty impressed with the level of detail and disciplined note taking.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter live in Northern Virginia so we find ourselves on the New Jersey Turnpike quite often, as least we did before COVID-19. It seems like Ron’s “survey” is quite accurate as I joke to my wife who is a heavy Prime user that at least one of those Prime trucks is on their way to our apartment in Manhattan! Yes most are Amazon, followed by Costco and UPS and then I would say Frito-Lay trucks, Pepsi and Coke, as DSD is still a thing followed by the occasional Stop & Shop and Giant trucks.

The real proof that e-commerce is through the roof is when picking up packages from the doorman/package handler. Lobbies of large buildings have turned into their own distribution centers with makeshift lanes for Amazon, UPS, and USPS, etc. It is a well oiled machine that is constantly churning to deliver what we think we need or what makes us just a little happier during these difficult and challenging dog days of summer.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I think you also saw why Amazon’s online sales deliver no profit — as any remaining money was driving down the NJ Turnpike. After all, Walmart trucks were likely filled with pallets of goods simply distributed to two or three locations. Each of those huge Amazon trucks was filled (if they’re e-commerce trucks) with goods which would be delivered to several hundred individual homes one at a time.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I love Ron’s observation. Was it Yogi Berra who said, “You can learn a lot by just watching”?

Of the operators noted, they have all made excellent gains by one measure or another. Amazon of course in actual volume, Target and Walmart in percentage.

Here is Yogi’s conclusion. “Boy, Amazon has a lot of trucks.”

James Tenser
BrainTrust

“Counting the trucks on the New Jersey Turnpike — They’ve all come to sell to America.” (Apologies to Paul Simon.)

Amazon’s 20,000 or so 18-wheelers aren’t en route to home deliveries, of course. They are moving pallet-loads of goods between its D.C.s, local fulfillment centers, and likely facilities near Newark Airport.

Amazon’s local delivery fleet consists of another 30,000 vans that lurk in neighborhoods like mine daily. That adds up to a lot of merchandise in motion.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

First of all, I’m a little troubled that Ron was counting and logging trucks while driving. If that’s not a traffic offense in New Jersey it ought to be. Seriously, I’d say Amazon. What stands out is that they are operating on an entirely different profit model.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

NO NOTE TAKING WHILE DRIVING! (That having been said, I always love these little impromptu outbursts of DYI research). If we’re simply talking about absolute gains, then the largest gains are most certainly those who are already the largest sellers (Amazon and Walmart). Even with higher rates of exponential growth, it would take the bronze medalist and “honorable mention” contestants quite a few years to catch up.

There’s not much to add — they’re both good at what they do — but as Amazon develops its ever-growing physical presence, I’m curious it there will be a reaction to it, and if so, will it be positive (“I see them everywhere”) or negative (“always double-parking”)?

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Of the operators noted, they have all made excellent gains by one measure or another. Amazon of course in actual volume, Target and Walmart in percentage. "
"I think you also saw why Amazon’s online sales deliver no profit — as any remaining money was driving down the NJ Turnpike."
"Seriously, I’d say Amazon. What stands out is that they are operating on an entirely different profit model."

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