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The Impact of Big Box Stores in Big Cities

According to a study by the Brookings Institute, large U.S. cities are growing faster than the suburbs. The shift to city life is due to the growing trend of young Americans choosing the urban life over the suburban. With more and more people living in large cities, large retailers have expanded out of the suburbs. They have also realized that city dwellers want something very different than their suburban counterparts.

Big City Shoppers Don't Want Big Boxes

Big box stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Office Depot are expanding into large cities but the result is not that "big." For these large retailers to survive in the city, they need to know what small locally owned city retailers have always known: city shoppers want smaller stores that are easily navigable and that sell smaller packages; the exact opposite of the car-focused, big-box model that has made them so successful in the suburbs.

The city versions of these big stores have attempted to meet the urban shopper's goals. For example, City Target, a store half the size of a normal Target, has attempted to meet the needs of their city shoppers by offering a small balcony patio set compared to a large one and more four packs of toilet paper than 12 packs. These changes recognize the smaller living spaces in cities and the fact that people who live in large cities often don't have cars and rely on public transportation. No cars make it difficult for shoppers to carry large items home.

Big Box Stores & Customer Service

These large retailers disguised in smaller packages, however, lack one thing that makes a city's neighborhood store special: personalized customer service. The existing small city retailers know when they are running out of a product and also know what their customers want. This is because they have personal contact with their customers. Large, national warehouse stores are not sensitive to the local's needs and wants.

A small city business owner needs to be aware of the potential effects of these large big box stores. While these stores have a lot to offer, they can also lack the customer service that a smaller retailer can provide.

Source: New York Times, "Retailers' Idea: Think Smaller Push," Stephanie Clifford

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