December 9, 2021
3 mins

Unstoppable trends | How digitization is reshaping real estate

December 9, 2021
3 mins
Daniel O’Donnell
Global Head of Citi Investment Management Alternatives
Jeffrey Locke
Head of Private Equity and Real Estate for the Americas
Burke Anderson
Real Estate Investment Research Analyst for the Americas

Digitization is having far-reaching effects on the demand for and use of real estate. We see specific opportunities within e-commerce related industrial properties and offices. 

Key takeaways

Increased adoption of e-commerce and remote working are set to endure far beyond the pandemic

These developments are reshaping the real estate landscape, changing the frequency and use of offices, while powering the logistics of the digital economy.

We expect continued demand growth for the warehouses, distribution facilities and other properties that facilitate e-commerce

We also see an increased uptake of office space in certain cities where white-collar jobs are growing fastest

A changing real estate landscape

The COVID pandemic has required extensive changes to how we live and work. While there are some features that we hope never to suffer again, others are set to endure. Most notably, these include greater convenience in our consumer habits and more accommodative working arrangements. Obtaining the goods that we desire from the comfort of our homes and doing business without attending a workplace are both made possible by the unstoppable trend of digitization. As technology advances further, both activities are likely to become even more attractive.

Large swathes of global real estate assets are therefore set to be heavily impacted – for better and for worse – by digitization, especially in the industrial and office sectors. We also believe that our asset allocation needs to reflect this unstoppable trend.

The real estate needs of digital enterprises

While e-commerce replaces shop floors with webpages, its physical real estate needs are still enormous. Warehouses, distribution and fulfillment centers and other industrial properties are critical to meeting our increased demand for goods delivered rapidly to our front doors. The pandemic has increased the extent of business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce activity. For example, consumers have taken to purchasing things online that they previously were reluctant about, such as perishable goods and furniture.

Globally, e-commerce sales accounted for 18% of total sales in 2020 and are expected to account for over 25% by 20254. In the US, the equivalent figures are 20% and 25% – figure 1 in the download below.5 This rapid growth has increased global demand for regional distribution centers and enhanced last-mile bases for same-day or next-day delivery.

Demand for US warehouse and distribution centers is expected to surpass 1 billion square feet by 2025 (92,903,040m²) as operators try to reduce delivery times and get even closer to customers in dense urban environments.6 This incremental need equates to approximately 10% of the 10 billion square feet of warehouse and distribution centers currently available in the US.

This unprecedented expansion is due partly to online order fulfilment requiring more logistics space. With e-commerce, 100% of inventory is stored in warehouses, rather than some on store shelves and in backrooms. This feature allows for greater product variety, deeper inventory levels, space-intensive parcel shipping operations and value-add activities such as processing returns.

As a result, it is estimated that e-commerce requires three times more industrial warehouse square footage than traditional brick-and-mortar retail to fulfill orders.7 US cities in the Sun Belt such as Savannah, Austin, Phoenix, San Antonio, Charleston and Charlotte have seen the fastest acceleration in new development as a percentage of existing stock over the past year – figure 2 in the download below.8

4CBRE, July 2021.

5Moody’s Analytics, CBRE – Econometric Advisors (“EA”), Q2 2021.

6Jones Lang LaSalle, August 2021.

7Prologis Research, June 2020.

8Transwestern, Q2 2021.