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Chasing Growth in Urban Markets, Big Boxes Go Small and Speedy

With suburbia saturated, large retailers chase an urban market poised for growth.
July 26, 2012, 2pm PDT | rachelproctormay
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The very symbol of suburbia -- the big box store -- is moving downtown, chasing younger shoppers who are choosing city apartments over leafy lawns. Wal-Mart, Office Depot, and Target are all actively expanding into urban locations and, for the first time, adapting their stores to city living. That means working with tight spaces, such as stocking fewer goods, as well as adapting to the tastes and needs of urban shoppers who want it small, and want it fast.

It also means tweaking their distribution systems, which tend toward the one-size-fits-all approach in suburbia, to reflect the character of their surroundings. In Toronto, for example, many residents of one neighborhood happened to be recent immigrants seeking to upgrade their bathrooms as their primary home improvement, which kept the toilet seats and shower heads in the prototype city Wal-Mart flying off the shelves. Adapting to the urban environment doesn't just help court shoppers; for some retailers, it's a way to fend off the zoning battles that have accompanied previous urban forays.

The move underscores recent recent census data showing growth in urban areas inching above suburban growth for the first time in decades.

Thanks to Rachel Proctor May

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Published on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 in The New York Times
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