More insight courtesy of a fellow commuter: Large, warehouse retail environments are damned unfriendly. While I haven’t fully thought through the implications of this, I am realizing that it’s definitely true. Staples, Home Depot, OfficeMax, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, nearly all the home repair and office supply stores fall into this category, presumably because they use the cavernous vertical space to store stock.
However, what I’ve noticed is that few, if any, stores stack stock higher than the 10 or 12 feet they’d be able to use in a normal retail space. I’m assuming it’s because, even with the ubiquitous rolling ladders that infest these places, the additional stock would just be too inaccessible.
In addition, the 20′ ceilings are furnished in what appears to be "Industrial Contempo", with no attention paid to human factors. Harsh, ugly suspended fluorescent lights are the rule, accompanied by exposed plumbing and ventilation. It might seem to improve the efficiency of the store, but I am betting there’s a big market for a friendly office store, with a more sensible (task-based?) layout.
The best confirmation I’ve seen of this recently was the office furniture department at Ikea, where furnishings and accessories were arranged into realistic simulations of actual workspaces. The ceilings were normal height, and the entire presentation made me wish my office were like their display.
I can’t think of anyone who would want their workplace to look like a Staples store. (And that includes the Staples employees themselves.)
Addendum: Thinking about a task-based or worker-based layout for an office supply store yielded another brainstorm: What about a grocery store laid out based on the types of meals being prepared? We already have the beginnings of that, with a breakfast aisle including not just cereal, but breakfast bars and Pop-Tarts and the like… considering the popularity of convenience foods, isn’t a shift towards convenience aisles just a natural progression?
Now naturally, there would be slightly increased inefficiencies, with the duplication of freezer and produce areas. But I am suspecting the "Oh! I needed that too!" impulse buys would more than make up for any costs of redundancy in the store. Not to mention the fact that such a store could charge higher slotting fees. Time to contact my local grocer, I suspect…