In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geography of Retail Trade

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Historical Studies
  • Theoretical and Conceptual Studies
  • Internationalization of Retailing
  • Retail Location Analysis and GIS
  • Retail Planning and Urban Regeneration
  • Spatial Aspects of Supply Chains
  • Spatial and Comparative Consumer Behavior
  • Food Deserts and Social Responsibility
  • Retail Firm-Based Studies

Geography Geography of Retail Trade
John Dawson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0168


Retailing is a universal activity. Activities comprising retailing are linked closely to the culture and economy of place, so there is a strong spatial aspect relevant to understanding the patterns and processes of retailing. Retailing has been integral to studies in urban, economic, cultural, and social geography since the early 20th century; thus a substantial body of material has developed over a century. Being a substantial sector of the economy, historical and theoretical considerations are present in the geography of retailing. Although originally an activity seen almost exclusively as part of domestic and national economies, retailing now has substantial international dimensions in the operations of multinational firms, international flows of know-how, and in the sourcing networks of retailers. Alongside the widening spatial horizons of retailing, there has also been considerable structural changes in the sector. The spatial location of retailers and the relationships with urban form are important factors in the structuring of retailing. This has become particularly evident with the emergence of powerful retail firms with wide influence in the spatial economy and using a variety of types of shop in addition to non-store based retailing. The retail firms have gained increasing power over consumer society and the spatially constrained behaviour of consumers. This increase in power not only generates a requirement for public policy intervention but also raises questions about spatial access to essential services. These developments in the sector have, during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, resulted in an increase in the body of geographically relevant published material. This article focuses on the more recent studies but includes some classic studies from earlier decades. Because of the universality of retailing, there are many studies in retail geography published in non-English languages; this article, however, is limited to English-language material.

General Overviews

The approach to retail geography has changed during the decades of its study. Early overviews, for example Scott 1970, explored issues of the location of shops with Berry and Parr 1988 building on the concepts of central place theory. The spatial behavior of consumers was viewed as linked to issues of demand that fed into issues of shop location and the potential need for public policy to influence location as pointed out in Dawson 1980. The emergence of the “New Retail Geography,” championed in Ducatel and Blomley 1990 and Wrigley and Lowe 1996, moved debates toward the interpretation of the processes behind behavioral decisions of retailers and consumers. The result of this shift is an increase of studies of processes within retail firms as they interact with other agents in domestic and foreign environments, illustrated in Dawson, et al. 2008 and Hamilton, et al. 2011. This has brought a synthesis of the geographical perspective with those from other social sciences: for example, Trentmann 2005 in studying consumers and Mukherjee, et al. 2015 in exploring retailer strategy and public policy.

  • Berry, Brian J. L., and John B. Parr. Market Centers and Retail Location: Theory and Applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988.

    This study was influential in bringing the Central Place Theory of Christaller into the geographical mainstream. An update of Geography of Market Centers and Retail Distribution (Foundations of Economic Geography series), 1967.

  • Dawson, John A., ed. Retail Geography. London: Croom Helm, 1980.

    Contributions review research in retail geography including retail location analysis, consumer behavior, the organization of retailing, and the impact of government regulation. The material draws mainly on European and North American material. It provides a benchmark for the state of retail geography in 1980 and before the emergence of “new” retail geography.

  • Dawson, John, Leigh Sparks, and Anne Findlay. The Retailing Reader. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2008.

    Comprises review chapters of research on consumer and shopper behavior, retail branding and marketing, merchandising, retailer strategy, and international retailing. The review chapters are supplemented by copies of key articles relevant to each chapter.

  • Ducatel, Ken, and Nicholas Blomley. “Rethinking Retail Capital.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 14.2 (1990): 207–227.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.1990.tb00669.x

    An influential paper in the development of retail geography in its criticism of an overly locational approach and its advocacy for a greater theorization of study of retail processes and the ways that retail capital is generated and exploited.

  • Hamilton, Gary G., Mish Petrovic, and Benjamin Senauer, eds. The Market Makers: How Retailers are Reshaping the Global Economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    The eleven contributions explore the changed power position of retailers in respect to relationships with consumers, suppliers, and other intermediaries. The contributions provide an overview of the ways that large retailers use a variety of technologies to become the controlling agents in the overall retail supply chain and exploit globalization processes to consolidate their control.

  • Mukherjee, Malobi, Richard Cuthbertson, and Elizabeth Howard, eds. Retailing in Emerging Markets: A Policy and Strategy Perspective. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2015.

    The role of retailing in sustaining economic development in emerging economies is the central theme to of contributions to this overview of comparative retail systems and governmental policy to stimulate and control retailing processes. The debate about governmental intervention for long-term structural guidance of the retail economy versus policy for short-term restrictions on change is explored in the contributions.

  • Scott, Peter. Geography and Retailing. London: Hutchinson University Press, 1970.

    A pioneering work that systematized geographical contributions to retailing, particularly related to locational issues, from the 1950s and 1960s, and the emergence of the planning of retail facilities. There is an emphasis on retailing in developed economies.

  • Trentmann, Frank, ed. The Making of the Consumer: Knowledge, Power and Identity in the Modern World. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

    The concept of consumers is one of the foundations of retail geography. The thirteen contributions in this book draw on the results of a multidisciplinary research project that addressed the question of how people began to be seen as “consumers.” The contributions have been important in moving ideas on consumers and consumption away from a simple focus on goods and items to a consideration of the personality, culture, status, and identity of consumers.

  • Wrigley, Neil, and Michelle Lowe, eds. Retailing, Consumption and Capital: Towards the New Retail Geography. Harlow, UK: Longman, 1996.

    A collection of sixteen contributions, mainly from the United Kingdom, around the theme of a “new” retail geography that considers structural and behavioral issues to be as important as spatial ones in retail geography. Retail capital and its transformation together with the varieties and vagaries of consumption provide the integrating themes for the contributions.

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