May 24 2011

Wal-Mart’s Home Delivery: What Does it Mean for Urban Planning?

Big-box retail outlets are not a staple of the urban design. Land is simply too expensive to devote to a single story of wide aisles and extensive parking. Wal-Mart and other global retailers are exploring ways to infiltrate the high-density, potential customer base of city centers.

Internet marketing is common today, and home delivery goes back to before the electronic age. Just think of Sears, Avon, and the milkman. There is a big difference between shopping for clothing and makeup online and picking up a carton of milk online. The latter not only requires refrigerated transportation but is probably needed for that day’s dinner or the next morning’s breakfast.

The ideal urban grocery solution promoted by New Urbanism and many other urban design gurus is the compact, live-within-walking-distance-of-work neighborhood. By definition, this includes grocery stores within walking distance of home and business. This model has focused attention on the corner grocery store that is seen in the design of older cities planned pre-automobile, such as San Francisco and New York City.

What if big-box retail chains with their high-volume price discounts, sophisticated supply and delivery systems could satisfy the fresh produce needs of urban residents? Wal-Mart is experimenting with such a model in San Jose, the third most densely populated city in the United States.

Already such services are being offered elsewhere:

• The U.K. has two online grocery delivery retailers: Asda (Wal-Mart chain in U.K.) and Tesco

• Amazon delivers fresh produce in Seattle (AmazonFresh), as well as in the U.K. and Germany

FreshDirect delivers in New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut

Peapod delivers groceries in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and several other cities in the United States

Working in favor of all home delivery in the United States, is the recent rise in gasoline prices, which has increased the appeal of online shopping. Moreover, home delivery of fresh produce is wonderful for anyone for whom mobility and transportation are an issue, such as the elderly, handicapped, and even stay-at-home parents.

When Target, Safeway, and Wal-Mart are all internet-marketing, urban planners might have to rethink the corner grocery.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 at 9:50 am and is filed under Internet Marketing, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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