One-Stop Shopping?

A few weeks ago, it was reported that "JC Penney is in the midst of a big expansion plan, which includes more "off-mall" stores that are in small shopping centers rather than big regional malls."

This is part of a trend that began three or four years ago. For example, in
"Abandoning the Mall" (WSJ: 2004/03/24, B1), Kortney Stringer wrote of the "growing number of shoppers who dislike indoor malls, with their confusing layouts and sprawling parking lots." Stringer quoted Sears Vice president Jerry Post: "We believe there is tremendous opportunity in off-mall stores because it puts you closer to that customer." Another Sears spokesperson added: "We found there is a customer who doesn't want to go to the mall and we weren't capturing that customer."

In another 2004 article, "Shopping shifts to 'off-mall' stores" in USA TODAY, we read that Department store operators are starting to shift from their mall bases to more freestanding stores, a strategy that offers more flexibility in opening stores and tries to capitalize on changing consumer shopping preferences.... …customer service is seen as key, and the off-mall alternative is seen as offering [better access and focus].

In a 2006 report, during a second quarter News Release, retailer Kirklands noted that, among their competition, "comparable store sales in mall stores declined 10.7% while comparable store sales in stores declined 5.5%" Going "off-mall" looks like it pays.

Champions of stand-alone stores or stores in smaller local setting talk about improved access, focus and flexibility. They could add the ability to brand one's own building and parking space; to make the physical look and 'feel' appropriate to one's own philosophy and goals.

I've been thinking about this lately because there is a movement afoot to physically combine many of the non-profit and government services we offer our populace. The advantages cited are efficiency (read: cost savings) and accessibility.

But will we be giving up local access, focus and flexibility? Will we be surrendering the ability to create a physical space appropriate to our goals, mission and vision? Who will pay for and manage the complex that houses us all? Who gets a say in what in looks like? Who handles security - and how?

"One stop shopping" makes a great slogan. But when the big names in retail start going in another direction, you have to wonder.

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