Retail is the catch-all phrase for the sale of final goods to consumers; a retail transaction is considered an "end" and is not intended for resale. The retail sector may be the most diverse industry in the United States, encompassing everything from agriculture to automobiles to clothing. There are two major types of retailers, traditional and franchises, and hundreds of possible subsectors. Major retailer companies include Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco, Target, Home Depot and Amazon.

Defining a Retail Sale

Some goods and services are sold to other businesses or for the use of achieving another economic end. For instance, lumber may be sold to a construction company and used to build a house. These types of sales are not considered "final" in the economic sense.

Other sales are made to nonbusiness customers with the ultimate purpose of being consumed. If lumber is purchased by a family to add to a deck on its home, the family does not expect to then sell the deck and make a profit on the lumber purchase. This sale is considered final and is therefore considered retail.

Size of the Retail Sector

The retail sector is enormous. In every year since 2012, total retail sales in the United States has exceeded approximately $5 trillion in total revenue. In 2014, global retail sales exceeded $22 trillion, with the largest countries including the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Online Retail

The fastest-growing subsector in the retail world lives online. Amazon blazed the trail for Internet-based "e-commerce," and total retail sales exceed $300 billion in the United States alone. Online retailers also benefit enormously by avoiding most sales taxes.

In 2013, total consumer retail spending grew by less than 7%. By comparison, online retail spending grew by 14%. Consumers are increasingly able to purchase retail items from their mobile devices and have goods delivered directly to their homes.

  1. What countries represent the largest portion of the global retail sector?

    Learn about the five countries that dominate the global retail sector: Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and the ... Read Answer >>
  2. What portion of the global economy is represented by the retail sector?

    Learn the size of the global retail sector and how fast e-commerce is catching up; find out how close China is to overtaking ... Read Answer >>
  3. What profit margin is usual for a company in the retail sector?

    Find out the typical profit margin for a major retail company, and learn how it compares to the profit margins for other ... Read Answer >>
  4. How does the long-term outlook of the retail sector compare to the broader economy?

    Find out why the retail sector is primed for strong growth moving forward, especially online retail, and learn why it outperforms ... Read Answer >>
  5. What are the primary risks an investor should consider when investing in the retail ...

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  6. What countries are driving most of the growth of the retail sector?

    Find out which countries are driving most of the growth in the global retail industry, including India, China, Chile, Uruguay ... Read Answer >>
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