The growth of large hypermarkets, especially as they have moved out of town centres, has been controversial. Its impact on traditional local retailers is hotly debated. America's experience with Wal-Mart is often used as a prime example, but this is phenomenon which is now extensively replicated in all continents, except Africa, and even there chain enterprises are starting to impact on traditional retailing operations. France, home of the hypermarket pioneer Carrefour and other giant retailers, now places restrictions on their expansion and ability to offer loss-leader reductions (selling a product below cost price as a way of bringing shoppers into the store). Proponents of the centres argue they offer shoppers a better experience and generate development and investment in the local area. Opponents maintain however that they destroy town centres, degrade the environment and erode local identities.
Hypermarkets and malls promote competition and so serve consumers well. Because of their huge purchasing power and economies of scale, large retail chains with huge outlets such as Wal-Mart, Tescos and Carrefour can offer products much more cheaply than smaller high-street rivals. The convenience and greater enjoyment offered by out of town malls can also push urban shopping centres into improving their own provision for consumers. This can be seen through improvements in the urban environment, better policing, cheaper parking and more ease of access, and the provision of entertainment and special events (e.g. farmers markets, foreign markets and street festivals) to draw shoppers in from a wider area. The public have voted with their feet, in 2003 48% of everything bought in Britain was bought in out of town stores1.
Out of town retail developments actually reduce effective competition because smaller urban outlets are not able to compete with them on price. In the United States for example, Wal-Mart pays workers the bare minimum and imports goods produced for a lot cheaper overseas1. Local stores cannot compete. After a while the urban shopping centre will become "hollowed out", with most stores shutting and only a few niche retailers or stores catering to poorer and less mobile social groups remaining. Once this competition is removed, the out of town stores can put up their own prices, especially as malls and other out of town retail centres are actively planned to reduce direct competition within particular retail sectors (e.g. only one large food retailer, only one Do-It-Yourself store, only, only a few shoe shops, etc.).
Out of town centres bring development in their wake. As out of town centres are often built on aesthetically unappealing "brownfield" sites, the injection of large investment by a retailer is a vote of confidence in the area and this has a knock-on effect in the local economy. The out of town centre acts as a magnet for further positive development locally. Other amenities and housing will typically start to congregate near the shop and the centre creates a boom for the local economy. This is not only true in the initial construction stages, it will also apply once it is up and running, as retail staff will typically be recruited fairly locally. In Edinburgh, the multi-million development of the out-of-town shopping centre in Livingston is believed to have created more than 1500 jobs alone1.
Out of town centres distort urban growth patterns. Because they are not organic growth, out of town centres often warp local infrastructure provision. So, while (for example) they may have good access roads built, there will be fewer amenities built at the same time, and subsequent residential development which follows in the path often grows too quickly to incorporate the sort of planned town infrastructure which developed in more traditional, carefully planned town centre environments. Because out of town centres often do not clearly serve a particular residential area, they distort growth as it means that, rather than responding to a residential area's needs, the centre is built and attracts residential development around it for convenience, regardless of whether this is the most appropriate planning approach for local communities.
Out of town malls offer a better shopping experience. It is easier for shoppers to visit an out of town retail development than an urban or town centre shopping area. Typically, out of town malls offer access roads which are not crowded and plenty of "free" car parking. This is welcomed by shoppers and is in contrast to many city centre or high street shopping areas. It is also convenient for shoppers to be able to make their purchases under one roof. In an out of town shopping centre, shoppers are typically able to complete their purchases in one covered mall, and perhaps even in one giant store. This is less time-consuming and less stressful than the more traditional experience of needing to visit multiple different shops. In addition, the interiors of shopping centres are actively managed and so are typically clean, relatively safe and may offer their own entertainment (e.g. skating rinks, cinemas, live music). This is typically less true of more traditional shopping areas, where for example at night poor lighting may be off-putting to some shoppers. As retail outlets in town continue to close, Britain reports growing demand for out-of-town shopping vacancies1.
t of town malls do not serve shopper interests well. It is time-consuming for shoppers to visit out of town centres because of their distance from population centres and the tendency for their access roads quickly to become clogged with traffic. This can eradicate any time saving from the convenience of having shops or retail categories clustered in a single geographical location. They also marginalise parts of society. For example, people without access to cars are effectively excluded from actively using them. This especially affects some social groups, e.g. the poor and the elderly. Ultimately, if out of town malls reduce their town centre shopping options, they will have less not more shopping choice.
Out of town retail developments are bad for the environment. They encourage pollution because they are further from town centres than traditional retail units and encourage the use of cars for fairly short, environmentally harmful journeys. They also frequently involve the destruction of large areas of countryside, not only to accommodate the retail development itself, but also the parking, access roads and secondary development that usually follows. This is made worse by the standard one or two story design of modern malls, which results in wasteful sprawl. Efficient urban development, by contrast, tends to go upwards (or downwards) in multi-storey buildings, often with parking below and apartments above retail space. Friends of the Earth, an environmental lobby, has recently pushed a ban in Northern Ireland on all out-of-town shopping centres, arguing they 'increase consumption and waste and dramatically increase cars on the road'1
Out of town retail developments need not be bad for the environment. Out of town centres are often built on land that would otherwise be derelict (e.g. Sheffield's Meadowhall Mall or Bluewater in Kent) and so, if anything, improve the quality of the area. Building modern retail outlets large enough to be economic in urban centres would also involve a great deal of destruction and the sacrifice of historic buildings and local character. Local pollution can be greatly reduced by using modern energy-saving designs which are not possible in city-centre locations, and by providing bus and light-rail services from nearby population centres.
Out of town malls damage town centres. Because the out of town developments are remote from the town centre, shoppers go there without passing the urban shops, which eliminates the opportunistic purchases which form a large part of many small shops' custom. They also damage the sense of community spirit. Out of town centres are typically managed by national firms and house chain shops, whereas the town centre will normally have a larger proportion of locally owned and run shops. Not only does this encourage a net outflow of money from the local community, it also reduces local involvement in the town centre, which can have a negative knock-on effect on civic pride and municipal participation. In Douglas, Arizona shops in the town centre have been forced to close due to a loss in sales to out-of-town centres. According to a 2010 report, over 23% of all spending on groceries was spent outside of the town itself, causing at least one major store in-town to fold and put all its employees out of work1. As such, out of town centres also remove a sense of local diversity. Because out of town centres are typically nationally run from outside the community, they all look alike and are less sensitive to local shoppers' needs. They are more likely to focus on homogenous product and service offerings across their sites.
Out of town shopping centres represent a sensible, efficient land use. Large-scale shopping does not sit well with residential behaviour. For example, early morning deliveries and late-night shopping can create a lot of noise. In a traditional environment where shops are immediately beside residential areas, this is a nuisance to local residents; this is not the case in out of town sites. Only out of town locations offer the retail industry the space it needs to function. To run an efficient modern shop, large amounts of space with particular planning needs often have to be used. This is often incompatible with densely populated, built-up areas where retail units are largely unable to be altered significantly to meet modern needs.
Out of town centres damage local communities' identities. In addition to the damage they do to local trade and civic identification, out of town centres are often far enough out of town that they are not clearly regarded as forming part of the local community. Frequently they lie outside the jurisdiction of the urban council, and so contribute nothing to the local area in taxes. One proposal has suggested using additional taxes on out-of-town retailers to ensure that British high streets can be either maintained or revived1. Furthermore, as out of town centres start to attract residential building nearby, this can "hollow out" the community identity and economic viability of the original town.
Out of town shopping centres do not damage local communities, they strengthen them. Shopping is easier, more convenient and more accessible than before, leaving more time for community activities. Furthermore, they act as hubs for community cohesion, teenagers can use the entertainment facilities, parents can shop. Any residential opportunities that arise only 'hollow' the community out for a short period of time, the influx of investment in the area (propelled by the shopping centre's presence) will ensure that the town and the shopping centre gradually close back together.