retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a piece this morning about how big box retailers are tailoring their offerings as they look to push into urban markets - a necessity as more and more people move into cities and the retailers look for new ways to grow their bottom lines.

"It is a significant shift from their approach in the past, when they tried to cram their big-box formats into cities, often prompting big fights," the story says. "This time, the retailers studied city dwellers with anthropological intensity and overhauled things as varied as store sizes (the city stores are a small fraction of the size of the suburban ones), packages (they must be compact enough for pedestrians) and signs (they are simple, so shoppers can get in and out within minutes)."

The Times continues: "Retailers are now willing to come into cities on the cities’ terms — with all the zoning headaches, high rents and odd architecture — because that is where the growth is. Most large American cities are growing faster than their suburbs for the first time in almost a century, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of census results released last month, largely because young adults are choosing urban apartment life. That population shift, along with Internet competition, have made the car-focused, big-box model less relevant."

And so retailers - including Walmart, Target, and Office Depot - have to create formats that are relevant to this expanding shopper base, with appropriate selections that are edited to reflect neighborhoods, and ease of shopping that will appeal to these dazzling urbanites.
KC's View:
We're going to be seeing a lot of these stories in coming days because of the new City Target stores that are opening. In the end, these stores will be successful if they can get the assortment right ... especially in places like New York City, where often different neighborhoods can seem like different countries. A lot of big retailers aren't set up for that - it goes against their corporate DNA and runs contrary to their preference for lowest-common-denominator marketing.

But maybe they can make it work. But they have to get it right the first time, because urban consumers may not give them a second chance if they get it wrong. They simply have too many other options.