Retail “Apocalypse”? Exploring the relationship between e-commerce and regional retail vitality

Authors: Kevin Credit*, University of Chicago, Irene Farah, University of Chicago, Luc Anselin, University of Chicago, Robert Manduca, Harvard University
Topics: Urban Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: Retail geography, spatial analysis, urban planning, urban geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 0, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Over the last 25 years, the retail landscape in the US has changed significantly. The rise of big box stores and e-commerce retailers like Amazon have threatened the more locally-focused independent retailers that still make up a majority of retail establishments. These changes in the nature of retailing potentially have significant implications for regional economic development and planning, because small, independent retailers provide the fine-grained land use fabric that is essential for creating the kind of urban vitality that encourages social interaction, walking, and place-making. In addition, big box and e-commerce firms generally export a significant share of retail revenue out of the regional economy while contributing to a more auto-oriented, unsustainable development pattern.

While there has been a surge of interest from the popular media since the Great Recession on the so-called “retail apocalypse”, there is little academic work that has clearly examined the extent of the post-Recession retail downturn on a national scale. Better understanding trends in retail vitality is particularly important in the context of trying to identify regional characteristics that foster resiliency for independent retailers. Thus, the goal of this paper is to use point-level business data for the entire country from 1991-2013 to answer the following questions:

1. What are the post-Recession trends for independent retail business vitality? Are there differences between types of retailers? Do chain stores exhibit different patterns?
2. What role does e-commerce activity play?
3. Does Jane Jacobs-style built environment diversity mitigate the effects of the Recession on retail vitality?

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