The logistics sector in a consumer driven society, essays on location and network structure

Date: 18 March 2019

Venue: University of Antwerp, Stadscampus, Grauwzusters Cloister - Lange Sint-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Antwerp (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 4:30 PM

PhD candidate: Joris Beckers

Principal investigator: Prof. dr. Ann Verhetsel

Short description: PhD defence Joris Beckers - Faculty of Business and Economics


Over the past twenty years globalization forces have internationalized production and consumption. The global disintegration of the production process severely complicated the in- and outflow of materials and significantly expanded the operational scale of logistics companies. Combined with an increasing awareness for the consumer, with a faster delivery of qualitative goods, this global scope demanded close cooperation between producers, suppliers and distributors and gave rise to a strategy of supply chain management and the advent of contemporary logistics. Recently, the popularity of the internet as an extra retail channel further complicated the organization of logistics flows. The emergence of free home deliveries implied a fragmentation of both destinations and volumes and constituted the consumer as an inherent part of the distribution process.

The changing role of logistics implied new locational factors for the physical distribution processes and caused a spatial reconfiguration of the logistics network. By using four case studies, this dissertation studies how local spatial interactions shape this new spatial configuration of the logistics network in Belgium. The first two cases engage in network methodologies to quantify this objective for the whole logistics sector. They confront network-based insights gained from a microeconomic dataset of buyer-supplier linkages with location- and domain-specific insights. The last two case studies focus on a subset of the sector: the courier, express and parcel (CEP) services. They highlight the impact of the consumer on the logistics chain by means of a mixed method methodology.

The network analysis identifies the presence of spatially contiguous communities within the Belgian logistics networks. Contrasting these with indicators of employment concentration results in a typology of logistics clusters. These communities are later refined by iterating the community detection algorithm, which uncovers the hierarchical structure within the logistics buyer-supplier network. Next the third case study maps the geography of online shopping behavior in Belgium. This lays the foundation for an assessment of the spatial distribution of the demand for online ordered parcels and leads to the development of a framework of new infrastructures in e-commerce delivery chains.

Drawing inspiration from network methodologies proves to allow for a richer description of the geography, especially with the increasing availability of ever growing datasets. Its application demonstrates how interactions differ geographically and hence impact the spatial configuration of the logistics network on a local level. However, this logistics network is not static. The rise in online shopping, with the demand for ever faster and more customized deliveries by consumers, extended current CEP networks with a new urban layer of logistics infrastructures. While this is currently a very fragmented layer in comparison to the other steps in the distribution chain, a clustering hereof is necessary to accomplish a sustainable organization of the delivery of online orders.