Circulation System

Written by  //  March 9, 2011  //  Retail Design  //  2 Comments

Circulation System Title

The most important principle to adhere to in retail planning is to encourage circulation of visitors. Retailers depend heavily on the flow of foot traffic past their windows: “window shopping” often does translate into actual shopping.

The best place to learn about circulation is from already planned shopping centres. Although mixed use environments and street retail may appear very different, the underlying principles regarding circulation are the same.

The following floorplan of Bluewater near London is one of the best examples of a properly laid out enclosed shopping centre.

“Anchors” is the term used to describe the largest draws for a retail centre. Typically in a mall these anchors are department stores and movie theatres, although this is now changing to include other users such as clusters of restaurants and innovative entertainment concepts.

“Sub-anchors” apply to large stores (often around 10,000 ft2) which are generally not the primary reason people visit a shopping centre, but may be a destination for visitors after arriving.

Smaller stores are called “inline tenants” which, although they may only make up 40% of the leased floospace, are the largest rental revenue generators. Inline tenants will pay a significantly higher premium for the privilege of being located near foot traffic generating anchors. Anchor stores know this and subsequently negotiate heavily subsidized leases from mall owners.

Although a mixed use project may not include the same retail anchors as in a mall, it still operates on the basis that visitors must be attracted in some way and circulate past inline tenants. Mixed use projects that expected visitors to come simply because they offer such an amazing environment failed badly during the last recession. Anchors and circulation are needed. The same applies equally to outdoor street shopping environments.

Bluewater is an excellent example of a properly laid out retail centre. It’s simple, easy to navigate, and has no unanchored corners. Sub-Anchors are strategically placed in-between anchors to encourage shoppers to continue moving. A racetrack circulation system means that a visitor walking around the centre will pass almost all the inline stores once. Racetrack systems are intuitive for customers -the more you deviate from this pattern the more problems you will encounter. Unanchored dead ends and retail units outside of the main circulation system are almost always the weakest points.

These principles are relatively easy to apply in a greenfield pure retail project which lacks barriers and constraints seen in mixed use projects. In denser, more urban environments with a mix of vertically integrated uses, circulation becomes increasingly difficult to implement effectively. Far too many examples exist where developers tried to squeeze in extra retail floorspace with little understanding as to how customers will actually access it. Vacant space is worse than no space. When creating a plan, think about the project from the perspective of a customer. Where are they going to park, where are they headed, and what will they pass on the way there?

At the end of the day, it is the anchoring and circulation system which defines the success of retail – mixed use or otherwise. Attractive architecture, public spaces, fountains, benches all help, but alone these do not make retail successful. Some of the world’s most successful retail projects are also some of the most unattractive!

About the Author

Reurbanist

Reurbanist is a multi-disciplinary firm that blends land use economics with urban planning and economic development. At its core, Reurbanist believes that great urban places that are compelling and vibrant must find success at both a fiscal and social level. Stronger cities and urban destinations translate into improved job growth, municipal tax revenue, and a higher quality of life for residents.

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  • sushmitha sunder

    excellent report and very informative. i am a student of architecture from india. i would love to see more of such a research on retail sectors more on a social aspect and how today’s population uses mall more as a communal space than just for shopping.i am very interested in retail design . i would like to expand my horizons on the career front in this field.

  • I’m imperssed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knowledgeable?