What does the literature tell us?

Power retailing has evolved over the last decade (Hernandez et al., 2003). Power centres and nodes are found in a variety of locations, including new-development urban fringe areas, former industrial areas, and shopping malls, and take a number of forms. The initial "category-killing" attraction of early big-box stores has, in many locations, been complemented with opportunities for cross-shopping and comparison shopping, and smaller-scale services. The emphasis on convenience, price, accessibility by automobile, the minimization of land costs (see Jones and Doucet, 2000), and the "open environment" characteristic of big-box clusters has changed the way in which consumers move around the shopping destination once they arrive.

Traditionally, the enclosed shopping mall provided the shopper with a safe haven, protected from the weather, with an array of additional services (e.g., washrooms, seating, security, etc.). In contrast, power retail provides very few of these amenities, leaving the shopper at the mercy of the elements.

Enclosed shopping malls were also developed to encourage pedestrian movement through the mall. Anchor stores at either end increased the opportunities for cross-shopping at the stores in between. Moreover, the enclosed malls of the 1970s and 1980s were integrated with municipal transit systems. Indeed, the supply of transit was integral to the development of early large-scale shopping destinations across North America (e.g., Bartlett, 2003). In contrast, the typical power centre has been developed with little attention to pedestrian movement within the centre or to pedestrian connections with its surroundings, including access to transit. Discussions of transport relative to power retailing typically focus on site issues (e.g., congestion at intersections), with little attention given to regional transportation impacts or consumer mobility by transit, let alone on foot or by bicycle.

Power retail establishments are structurally and operationally distinct from other retail formats, lacking, for example, the common spaces and extra amenities of the traditional enclosed shopping centre (Lord and Bodkin, 1996; Bodkin and Lord, 1997; Wang et al., 2000; Lorch, 2005). Moreover, in contrast to the limited opportunities for the expansion of enclosed malls, power centres may continue to grow through infill development and expansion into surrounding land parcels. The ongoing expansion of large-format retail capacity makes it difficult to develop medium- or long-term plans to balance economic growth with problems such as traffic congestion. That is, the local impacts of power retail can, over time and with expansion, intensify and potentially extend to the regional scale.

Consumer spatial behaviour also varies across retail formats. For example, recent evidence suggests that between one-half and two-thirds of consumers visit two or more stores in a single trip to a power centre (e.g., Lord and Bodkin, 1996; Lorch, 2005), but this is fewer than the number of stores that consumers visit when they go to a typical regional mall. These findings suggest that consumers tend to focus on a specific store within a power centre, limiting their movement within the centre. This tendency can be reinforced by the layout of the centre, the distance between stores, and the nature of the other available retail opportunities (e.g., store compatibility, tenant mix, size of stores). The distance between stores, for example, reduces cross-shopping within power centres (Bodkin and Lord, 1997).

While little research has been done on consumer travel to power centres, the configuration of power centres and nodes suggests that most consumers drive to them. This is not unexpected, given that the centres are designed for automobile access and sited on less expensive parcels of land on the urban fringe, typically close to highway infrastructure (Jones and Doucet, 2000), and given consumer preference for convenience and low prices (Davies and Clark, 1994).

Lorch (2005) reported that for the Kenaston Power Node in Winnipeg, cross-shopping within the node appeared to take place largely by car -- that is, 90 percent of those who visited two or more stores re-parked their car more than once during a single shopping trip. In fact, one-third of the respondents in the survey reported parking three or more times during the course of a single shopping trip. All the respondents had travelled to Kenaston Power Node by car.12 In other words, power retail is characterized by high levels of auto use for the initial trip to the centre and additional driving and parking on-site.

Despite the lack of common-area services, the sheer scale and cumulative retail impact of power centres, especially the larger power nodes, means that many of them draw consumers over large distances. Studies have shown that power retail trade areas are often larger than the trade areas of regional malls (Bodkin and Lord, 1997; Wang et al., 2000). This finding suggests that consumers may be trading greater transport costs against the convenience and price advantage of power retail, as an alternative to shopping closer to home at smaller retail outlets or older enclosed malls (where they exist). Other research has shown that the initial regional draw of power centres decreases over time. Once a power centre is established, it may draw a larger share of consumers who travel shorter distances, typically by car, as residential development fills in around the power centre (Buliung et al., 2007).

The role of power retail destinations in the everyday life of consumers even appears to extend beyond shopping. For example, Wang et al. (2000) found that power nodes may also act as regional entertainment destinations. If this is the case, then the usual justification for the need to provide good automobile access to power retail -- so that consumers can take home large quantities of bulky goods -- should be modified to take into account the broad range of activities conducted at these locations.

12. Ridesharing was not reported, so the extent of single-occupancy vehicle travel is unclear.