What is retail? Definition and examples

Retail is the sale of products to consumers in relatively small quantities. The consumers do not then sell on what they bought. In other words, the buyer does not resell. The buyer, in the retail sector, is the end of the line of the product. Put simply; the purchaser is the ultimate consumer.

In rare cases, in the retail sector, the buyer is not the ultimate consumer. For example, if a man buys a present for his girlfriend, the girlfriend is the ultimate consumer. However, the purchaser did not buy the product to then sell it on. Therefore, the transaction occurred in the retail sector.

The retail sector includes all shops and stores that sell goods to shoppers, i.e., the ultimate consumers. The shoppers buy the products for personal and not business use.

BizFluent.com says the following regarding this sector:

“It encompasses all kinds of shops, from kiosks and small groceries to supermarket chains and large department stores.”

“In addition to traditional bricks-and-mortar shops, the retail sector includes mail-order and online businesses.”

Retailers are involved in B2C transactions. B2C stands for business-to-consumer.

Retail - definition and examples
Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks and former owner of the Seattle SuperSonics, once said: “You walk into a retail store, whatever it is, and if there’s a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you wanna be there.”

The retail sector

  • The United States

Retailers in the United States employ over fifteen million workers, says Plunkett Research. One in every ten US employees works for a retailer.

In 2017, retail sales reached a total of $5.733 trillion.

  • The United Kingdom

British consumers spent approximately £406 billion ($530 billion) in retail purchases in 2017, says Parliament.UK. The percentage of money consumers spent was as follows:

– They spent 39% of their money in food stores.

– 42% in non-food stores.

– 10% in filling stations (vehicle fuel).

– They spent the rest of their money via mail-order catalogs, market stores, and at other types of retailers.

Regarding the British electorate choosing to leave the EU, i.e., Brexit, Parliament.UK says the following:

“The vote to leave the EU has had an effect on inflation, with the largest impact being on food prices; however, consumer confidence has remained high, contrary to expectations.”

Most valuable retail brands globally 2023
Created by Market Business News with data from Statista.com.

Retail vs. wholesale

Retailers and wholesalers work in different sectors of the economy.

  • Retailers

The retailer sells products directly to the ultimate consumer. They sell products individually, i.e., one at a time, to one consumer at a time.

Consumers in the retail sector are not purchasing a product for business use. They are buying it for personal use. In other words, they are not going to resell it.

  • Wholesalers

The wholesaler sells in bulk quantities to other business entities. The purchasers in the wholesale sector are buying goods for business purposes. They plan to resell those goods. Alternatively, they might use those goods as components for a final product which they then sell.

According to Key Differences:

The word wholesale simply means selling in bulk quantities and retail stands for selling merchandise in small quantities. Wholesale and retail are two distribution arrangement that constitutes a major part of the supply chain.”

Retail – part of the supply chain

The supply chain is the whole network of people, companies, and other entities that take part in getting a product from its origin to the ultimate customer.

The supply chain starts at a mine, the sea, a forest, or a farm. That is where we get the raw material.

  • Supply chain for a woolen sweater

Let’s look at the supply chain of a 100% woolen sweater (pullover) that we buy in a shop.

The wool begins in the sheep farm, where the farmer shears the wool from his or her sheep. To ‘shear’ means to cut off the wool with a special cutting device (shears).

A transportation company takes the wool to a warehouse. The warehouse belongs to a wholesaler. The wholesaler sells the wool to a sweater factory. The sweater factory is in the manufacturing or industrial sector.

A transportation company then transports sweaters, i.e., finished products, to shops. Some of the merchandise might go to a wholesaler who sells it to small shops.

The shops are in the retail sector. Therefore they are retailers. You walk into the shop and buy the sweater. You are the ultimate consumer.

The whole process, from the sheep farm to your shopping bag is the supply chain.

Online shopping

Since the advent of the Internet at the end of the last century, how we buy and sell goods and services has changed significantly.

Online shopping, i.e., the activity or action of purchasing goods and services over the Internet, is huge today.

The online retail sector, logically, has also grown. Online shopping cannot grow if online retailing doesn’t grow too.

Prof Henry Gao, from Singapore Management University School of Law, says that e-commerce is worth many trillions of dollars globally. E-commerce, which stands for electronic commerce, includes the online retail sector and all other business activities that occur on the Internet.

Technological advancements in retail, such as the use of AI for personalized shopping experiences and blockchain for supply chain transparency, are revolutionizing the sector, offering new opportunities for both retailers and consumers.

The integration of augmented reality into online shopping platforms is enhancing the virtual retail experience, allowing customers to visualize products in their own space before making a purchase.

Retail analytics, leveraging big data to understand consumer behavior and preferences, is becoming increasingly crucial for retailers to stay competitive and tailor their offerings to meet the evolving needs of their customers.”

The emergence of smart checkout technologies, which allow for a seamless and expedited purchasing process, is setting new standards for efficiency in the retail customer experience.

Derivatives of “retail”

There are many derivatives of the word “retail” and related compound nouns Let’s have a look at some of them, their meanings, and how we can use them in a sentence:

  • Retailer (noun)

A person, shop, or business that sells goods to the public.
Example: “The retailer announced a huge sale for the upcoming holiday season.”

  • Retailing (noun)

The activity or occupation of selling goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption rather than for resale.
Example: “Retailing has changed dramatically with the rise of e-commerce platforms.”

  • Retail (adjective)

Related to the sale of goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption.
Example: “They operate in the retail sector, providing clothing and accessories to individual consumers.”

  • Retail (verb)

The act of selling goods to the public in relatively small quantities for use or consumption.
Example: “She crafts jewelry at home and retails it online and at local craft fairs.”

  • Retail (adverb)

Directly to consumers for their own use, usually implying the sale of goods in small quantities.
Example: “The product is sold retail at a significantly higher price than wholesale.”

  • Retail Price (compound noun)

The price at which goods are sold to individual consumers.
Example: “Customers were surprised to find the retail price was lower than expected during the off-season.”

  • Retail Therapy (compound noun)

The act of shopping for leisure or as a way to relieve stress.
Example: “After a tough week at work, she indulged in some retail therapy at her favorite boutique.”

  • Retail Outlet (compound noun)

A store or shop that sells the goods of a particular manufacturer or wholesaler.
Example: “The new retail outlet on Main Street offers exclusive products from local artisans.”

  • Retail Park (compound noun)

A large, out-of-town shopping center with several retailers.
Example: “We spent the afternoon at the retail park looking for new furniture.”

Two Educational Videos

These two interesting video presentations, from our sister YouTube channel – Marketing Business Network, explain what ‘Retail’ and ‘Online Retailer’ are using simple, straightforward, and easy-to-understand language and examples.

  • What is Retail?

What is an Online Retailer?