Won't You Be My Neighbor?

July 1999


Won't You Be My Neighbor?

National superstores fit themselves into the neighborhood formula

The future of retail is in the coziness and variety of neighborhoods ­ and colossal superstores are getting the idea.

Consumers like being able to get in and out easily and enjoy specialized selection, variety and convenience, which neighborhood shopping districts can provide, says Visual Merchandising & Store Displaymagazine. National chains such as The Gap, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks already discovered their niches in neighborhoods, moving next door to independent specialty stores. Now retail giants, criticized by their independent competitors for being impersonal and homogenous, are reinventing themselves to take advantage of the trend.

Wal-Mart, for instance, is testing three stores about the same size as traditional supermarkets, placing them in downtown shopping districts and branding them "Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets."

Home Depot is opening smaller versions with limited selection to nudge out the Ace Hardware and True Value stores that have ruled downtown districts for decades.

The retailers are counting on the idea that customers like to buy things two ways:

  • Basic, cheap with minimal customer service.
  • Highly specialized "dreams" accompanied by superior treatment.

The stores in the "unclear middle," says the magazine, may not survive in the more polarized world of retail.

– by Stacey King

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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