Retail geography is the study of where to locate retail stores in an urban setting according to where consumers are located, how the streetscape physically unfolds around them and what the demographics of the area suggest people might purchase.
The subject has been a component of evolving urban landscapes since there have been evolving urban landscapes, and there’s no shortage of learned consideration on the subject. In his book, Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, American urban planning consultant Robert Gibbs offers some practical insight on how to design a sustainable retail-scape that’s mindful of economic reality and consumer behaviour—both.
“The retail and shopping centre sector is the riskiest of all principal real estate sectors,” he warns. He contends that too much of the new urbanist approach is predicated on “romantic and outdated notions of retail,” including “retail concepts that do not exist, store sizes that are not feasible, and commercial and mixed-use centres that lack critical mass.”
Other highlights of the book include the following:
- The corner store has had its day. Unless it’s situated on a primary street within reach of 800 to 1,000 households and is open for extended hours, mobile consumers in their cars will likely bypass it.
- Retailers predominantly favour setups that cater to the automobile-powered crowd. Still, there are signs of progress on this front, and some supermarkets have adopted floor plans that acknowledge the pedestrians in their midst.
- Developers and retailers should work together, as they did in towns and cities decades ago, and appreciate that a town centre’s mix of civic uses, such as libraries, can increase consumer traffic and improve overall economic performance.
- Retailers should avoid wasteful spending on such frills as fancy sidewalks, he advises, and instead use their limited resources on storefronts, signs and visual merchandising.
At the end of the day, cautions Gibbs, retailers must remember that “People do not need to shop.” It behooves the stores that serve them, then, to offer precisely the merchandise at precisely the price point in precisely the physical arrangement that consumers will respond to.