This sector includes both the wholesale and retail sale of any type of goods. It is the final step in the distribution of merchandise. Also included is the repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles. Wholesale is the resale of new and used goods to retailers, business-to-business trade or to other types of wholesalers. A wholesaler will often assemble, sort and grade goods in large lots, and repack and redistribute in smaller lots. Retailing is the resale (sale without transformation) of new and used goods – often referred to as consumer goods – mainly to the general public for personal or household consumption via shops, department stores, stalls, mail-order houses, door-to-door sales persons, etc.
Retail enterprises can be either independently owned and operated or part of a “chain,” a group of two or more stores whose activities are determined and coordinated by a single management group. Stores that are part of a chain may all be owned by a single company, but in other cases, the individual stores may be franchises that are independently owned by a small businessperson.
Many different types of retail establishments exist, and, as noted above, the overall industry has seen a significant blurring of the boundaries that had long separated the wide range of companies operating under the retail umbrella. Nonetheless, retailing establishments still generally fall into one of the following general categories:
- Specialty Stores—These establishments typically concentrate their efforts on selling a single type or very limited range of merchandise. Clothing stores, musical instrument stores, sewing shops, and party supply stores all fall within this category
- Department Stores—These establishments are comprised of a series of departments, each of which specialises in selling a particular grouping of products. Under this compartmentalised arrangement, consumers go to one area of the store to purchase tableware and another area to acquire bedding, for example.
- Supermarkets—These retail establishments, which are primarily involved in providing food to consumers but have increasingly ventured into other product areas in recent years, account for the vast majority of total food-store sales in America.
- Discount Stores—These retail outlets offer consumers a trade-off: lower prices (typically on a broad range of products) in exchange for lower levels of service. Indeed, many discount stores operate under a basic “self-service” philosophy
- Mail-Order Businesses and other Non-store Retailing Establishments—Mail-order sales have become an increasingly ubiquitous part of the American retail landscape; indeed, some retail establishments subsist entirely on mail order, forsaking traditional stores entirely, while other companies maintain operations on both levels. In addition, this category includes sales made to end consumers through telemarketing, vending machines, the Internet, and other non-store avenues.
Electronic retail has been growing at a significantly higher rate than retail trade as a whole. The subject is covered in some detail in this volume under Dot-Coms.