Retail in the functional sense refers to the sale of goods directly to the end consumer (business-to-customer, B2C); in the institutional sense, the term retail includes all companies operating in B2C.

What is the definition of retail?

Retail is the link between the manufacturer and the consumer. Functionally, retail in this context is the sale of goods directly to consumers, i.e. to non-commercial customers. Institutionally, retail is a trading company that offers different products from different manufacturers. In this process, the customer does not pay the manufacturing price, but the retailer increases the price of the goods in order to make a profit.

Thus, a dealer is called a retailer when he sells his goods directly to a consumer. In doing so, he receives his goods either from a wholesaler or from the manufacturer himself. Retail industries include, for example, clothing, food, or services such as hotels or restaurants. Retail represents the last sales stage in the supply chain and is therefore particularly focused on the consumer.

What are the retail types?

In retailing, a distinction is made between different types of retail and types of operation:

Fixed salesroom

The fixed salesroom is the most common way of doing retail. In this type of retail, goods are sold in a specific store.

"Ambulant" retail

This is a flexible retail stall. An example would be a stall at a market that is only on certain days.

Mail order

Mail order describes retail where a product is ordered from a sales representative and delivered to the customer. This can also be done online, but is distinct from e-commerce.


E-commerce or online trading describes the exclusive processing of purchases via the Internet. The goods, which the customer finds via an online store, are sent to him after the purchase by means of a shipping company.

Operational forms of retail trade

Corner store

A corner store is colloquial and describes a usually very small store with an older ambience.

Specialty store

The specialty store offers a specifically oriented assortment (for example, electronics) and salespeople who are very well trained on this subject. The customer therefore has a large selection of a specific product area and receives professional advice. 

Department stores

Department stores (colloquially also department stores) are large retail businesses, usually covering an area of several thousand m² and several floors. They offer a wide range of products. From textile goods to kitchen items and services such as travel agencies or restaurants, everything can be found in department stores. 


Characteristic of discounters are the very low-priced, fast-moving products, which are designed for quick turnover. The presentation of the goods is very simple, advice and customer service are usually not offered. 

Branch stores

Branch stores are operations that are located in different premises but still follow the same corporate policy. This includes that the warehouse and the procurement of goods are organized centrally.

Specialist retailer

Specialist retailer are large-scale operations which have limited their assortment specifically to one product group and sometimes have the price level of a discounter. In specialist stores, customers can help themselves or seek advice, and the presentation of goods is usually large-scale and open. Examples of specialist stores include hobby, construction, sanitary and sports stores and garden centers. 


Supermarkets offer a wide range of products on 400-800m², mainly food and household goods. The presentation of goods is much more valuable than in discounters. The products are mainly offered in self-service.


Hypermarkets (also known as self-service department stores) are large retail outlets with a floor area of at least 1000 m² offering goods at permanently low prices.  In most cases, these are foodstuffs and fresh produce.

Distinction from wholesale

Wholesale is to be classified on the level before retail and refers to the distribution of goods to corporate customers (business-to-business, B2B). 

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