What Is Retail? Understanding the Nature and Trends of Retailing


What Is Retail?

Retail is a commercial activity in which goods are sold directly to the final consumer. In retail, products are usually sold to consumers through channels such as brick-and-mortar shops, supermarkets, department stores, specialty stores, convenience stores, etc. They can also be sold online through e-commerce platforms.

Retail involves a series of processes such as sourcing goods from the supply chain, storing the products, displaying and selling the products, and providing after-sales services. Retailers enter into partnerships with suppliers to acquire inventory by purchasing goods at wholesale prices or entering into agreements with suppliers and then selling them to consumers at retail prices at a profit.

The retail industry covers a wide range of product areas, including food, clothing, household goods, electronic equipment, home appliances, cosmetics, and daily necessities. With the advancement of technology and the popularity of the Internet, e-commerce has become increasingly important in the retail industry and many traditional retailers have opened online shops to expand their business.


Categorisation of Retail

Brick-and-mortar retail: Brick-and-mortar retail refers to traditional shops set up in commercial districts or shopping centres to display and sell a wide range of goods as their main business, e.g. supermarkets, department stores, boutiques, etc.

E-tailers: E-tailers sell goods through internet platforms. This includes online shops, e-marketplaces, and auction sites, e.g. Amazon, eBay, etc. Consumers can browse and purchase goods online and make online payments and deliveries.

Warehouse stores: Warehouse stores are a type of retailer whose primary business is to provide wholesale merchandise and mass storage. They usually provide goods to commercial customers and sell them at lower prices and in large-volume packages.

Discount stores: Discount stores are known for selling merchandise at low prices. They typically sell out-of-season, obsolete inventory or special offer merchandise at relatively low prices. Discount stores can be brick and mortar shops or online platforms.

Specialty stores: Specialty stores focus on specific product areas or industries and offer expertise and services. Examples include specialty retail stores that specialise in sporting goods, electronic equipment, jewellery, furniture, etc.

Convenience stores: Convenience shops are typically located in neighbourhoods or busy areas and offer a variety of goods and services needed for everyday living. They operate for long hours, are convenient to shop at, and are characterised by their small size and quick service.


Benefits of Retail Business

Generate revenue and profitability: Retail business is a sales channel for products and services. Revenue and profitability can be realised by providing the products that consumers want, as well as providing a good shopping experience and after-sales service. This is important for businesses as they need to earn profits to maintain operations and grow their business.

Enhance brand value and recognition: By selling products through retail channels, companies are able to showcase the features, benefits and uniqueness of their products to consumers, thereby building a brand image and establishing an emotional connection with consumers.

Promotes economic growth: Retail business plays an important role in economic growth. By selling products and services, retailers stimulate the development of supply chains and contribute to the growth of manufacturing and other related industries. In addition, retail business provides tax revenue to the government and boosts the economy.

Increased competition and diversity: The competitive nature of the retail business makes it necessary for firms to continually improve and innovate in order to attract consumers and maintain a competitive edge. This leads to greater choice and diversity, enabling consumers to enjoy a wider range of products and services.

Trends of Retail

Growth of online retailing: In 2023, as the global market rebounds and people's consumption potential continues to be unleashed, the retail industry is expected to continue to be favoured by the market as the economy recovers. In addition, the gradual rise of e-commerce platforms and online marketplaces with the development of the Internet has prompted traditional retailers to strengthen the operation and management of their online shops to meet consumer demand. Online retailing has now become a major trend in the global retail industry due to its advantages of convenience, product diversity, and price competitiveness, and has grown rapidly over the past few years. Ecommerce websites, as a direction of online retail, have also gained widespread attention in recent years. With a wide variety of content and formats, ecommerce websites are also able to build personal brands and gain influence in specific areas, while contributing to the growth of online retail sales.

Personalisation and customisation: With the rise of social media platforms, consumers are placing more emphasis on self-expression and individuality, and they are looking for one-of-a-kind customised products to show off their unique taste and style. Economic growth and rising income levels have enabled consumers to pay higher prices for customised products. As a result of the above, consumer demand for personalised and customised products is increasing. And retailers are increasingly focusing on providing personalised shopping experiences and customised product options. Retailers can use data analytics and AI technology to be able to better understand consumer preferences and needs and offer products and services accordingly.

Cross-channel integration: The growth of online retail shops has prompted retailers to endeavour to integrate online and offline channels. Consumers expect to switch between multiple channels, such as purchasing online and then returning the item at a physical shop or browsing online and then purchasing at a physical shop. Retailers can reach consumers by creating online shops and also provide a convenient shopping experience by developing mobile apps, which make the process of browsing for products, placing orders, and paying for a series of items easier and faster, thus boosting sales. Cross-channel integration also provides retailers with greater access to consumer information and analysis. They can collect consumer behaviour and preferences across channels and use this data to provide personalised marketing strategies. In addition, technological tools such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) can be used in shops to help consumers select products.

Social media and influencer marketing: Social media has become an important promotion and sales channel in the retail industry because social media platforms have a large user base and users browse, share and interact frequently. Marketing and promotion on social media platforms can build brand image, convey brand values to consumers and enhance brand awareness and customer loyalty. It is also one of the low-cost ways to get feedback and reviews from users, allowing retailers to better and faster understand consumer needs and preferences, and to make timely adjustments to the direction of subsequent brands and products. Retailers can also attract potential customers by precisely placing advertisements and on these social media platforms. With the help of some marketing tools, the cost of marketing for retailers has become lower and more efficient, which has prompted more retailers to market and promote their products. So in today's competitive market environment, social media marketing has become an indispensable tool. If retailers don't engage in it, they may lose the opportunity to compete with their competitors for audience attention and market share.

Sustainability and environmental awareness: Nowadays, global warming and lack of resources have led to the protection of the environment becoming one of the hot topics. Consumers are becoming more and more concerned about the environmental friendliness and social responsibility of brands under the influence of the outside world. For businesses, it is essential to strengthen their brand awareness and actions to protect the environment. Retailers can respond to consumer demand by, for example, reducing non-essential packaging, launching packaging recycling programmes and offering eco-friendly products. They can also incorporate sustainability and environmental awareness into their core values through advertising, social media and other channels to help shape their company's image and attract a customer base with similar values.

These trends indicate that retail is moving towards greater digitalisation, personalisation, convenience and sustainability. Retailers need to proactively adapt to these trends and continue to innovate to meet changing consumer needs.

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