There is a tendency for shopping in modern cities, with their big supermarkets, to become increasingly impersonal. When shops are too large, or controlled by absentee owners, they become rather bland and abstract. The larger they become, the less personal their service is, and the harder it is for smaller shops around them to survive. Merchandise in supermarkets, though varied, has much less 'character' than that in individual shops or market stalls, and there is little or no interaction between the citizen and the shopkeeper. Many economic factors tend to exacerbate this problem, such as the policy of central buying and the profit motive on the part of supermarket chains: the convenience of customers is served, but at the price of sacrificing individual personality and human contact in shopping. Franchising is another modern example of 'impersonal' shopping, since the object of franchising is to create shops that look individual, but are in fact part of a chain operation, wherein each shop is the same, or extremely similar.
Research into people's attitudes towards personal shopping suggests that there is room to keep or restore the small local shop. In Berkeley, California, a survey showed that 80% of the customers of a neighbourhood store still happily walked to that store, and suggested that corner groceries should be within three to four blocks, or 1200 feet, of homes. Further studies in San Francisco indicate that a corner grocery shop can survive under circumstances where there are 1000 people within three or four blocks, a net density of at least 20 persons per net acre, or six houses per net acre. Most city neighbourhoods do have this density and San Francisco, for example, supports 638 neighbourhood grocery shops with a population of 750,000 people. One of the difficulties of maintaining local shops is the size of the capital investment each requires. A solution could be to make them smaller: in Morocco, India, Peru and many other countries, shops are often no more than 50 square feet in area.