online shopping spree

Report: E-commerce soars in 2020 — in Houston and beyond

Retail trends are affecting Houston's real estate growth, a report from Avison Young finds. Photo via Getty Images

This year's holiday shopping season is keeping online retailers hopping. Commercial real estate services provider CBRE predicts holiday e-commerce sales in 2020 will exceed last year's by a whopping 40 percent.

But even before Americans were focusing intently on buying holiday gifts, e-commerce had taken off amid pandemic-generated shopping constraints. In the second quarter of this year, online sales skyrocketed by 44.5 percent compared with the same period in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. E-commerce accounted for a record-high 15.1 percent of total retail sales from April through June.

A forecast from commercial real estate services provider Avison Young indicates the U.S. upswing in e-commerce sales will benefit one segment of Houston's real estate sector more than any other in 2021 — industrial. Riding this year's e-commerce wave, Houston's industrial market will "remain solid" next year, the forecast says.

"Industrial continues to outperform all other asset types," Avison Young's report reads, "but higher vacancies and larger rent concessions will continue in 2021 as the new supply outpaces immediate demand. Online shopping is strong, and national retailers are building large distribution centers and last-mile facilities throughout the metro."

The forecast cites several industrial projects underway or recently leased in the Houston area:

  • A 1 million-square-foot spec warehouse under construction in Baytown, near the Port of Houston. It's said to be one of the largest spec industrial facilities underway in the U.S. The developer is Hunt Southwest Industrial Real Estate. The warehouse is set to open in March.
  • A 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center under construction in New Caney for home improvement retailer Lowe's. The $65 million project, which will be the largest industrial facility in Montgomery County, is supposed to be ready for occupancy in July.
  • A newly completed 402,648-square-foot facility that online retailer Costway is occupying in Pasadena, near the Port of Houston.
  • Dunavant Distribution's expansion into a 784,000-square-foot leased property in Deer Park, near the Port of Houston.

Various e-commerce players are relying more and more on regional distribution centers, last-mile distribution facilities, and micro-fulfillment centers throughout the Houston area, according to Avison Young. E-commerce behemoth Amazon is driving a lot of this activity. For instance, the retailer is planning a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center in Missouri City. That space is scheduled to open sometime in 2021. Meanwhile, an 850,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center is on tap for nearby Richmond.

In a third-quarter report, Avison Young noted that 15.1 million square feet of industrial space was under construction in the Houston area and 4.1 million square feet of industrial space had been completed, with net absorption of 1.1 million square feet.

The Port of Houston is helping propel many of the moves in Houston's industrial market. In October, the port notched its busiest month on record, with cargo activity sailing 15 percent above the same period in 2019. Operators of the port hope to begin work on widening of the Houston Ship Channel in 2021.

Nationally, this year's spike in online shopping rocked the retail boat. This surge has produced new generations of retailers and consumers, Avison Young says, and has put pressure on the entire supply chain. Furthermore, it has accelerated chatter about the road ahead for last-mile delivery and brick-and-mortar retail.

"Existing retail space, which was either redundant or surplus to requirements, is being repurposed to facilitate 'click and collect' models," per the report. "Retailers are adjusting the 'front end' consumer-facing component of the store for showroom or experiential space to complement traditional browse-and-buy activity. In-store staff, coupled with technology investments, are being channeled into order picking and back-of-house fulfillment activities."

"Traditional stores were always a combination of the retail and logistics functions; recent trends suggest a renewed recognition of this dual role," the firm adds. "As surplus retail space becomes cheaper and more available, innovations around hyperlocal delivery will be a key part of reimagining the future of retail."

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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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