The distribution of consumer products begins with the producer and ends at the ultimate consumer. Between the producer and the consumer there is a middleman—the retailer, who links the producers and the ultimate consumers. Retailing is defined as a conclusive set of activities or steps used to sell a product or a service to consumers for their personal or family use. It is responsible for matching individual demands of the consumer with supplies of all the manufacturers. The word ‘retail’ is derived from the French work retailer, meaning ‘to cut a piece off’ or ‘to break bulk’.
A retailer is a person, agent, agency, company, or organization which is instrumental in reaching the goods, merchandise, or services to the ultimate consumer. Retailers perform specific activities such as anticipating customer’s wants, developing assortments of products, acquiring market information, and financing. A common assumption is that retailing involves only the sale of products in stores. However, it also includes the sale of services like those offered at a restaurant, parlor, or by car rental agencies. The selling need not necessarily take place through a store. Retailing encompasses selling through the mail, the Internet, door-to-door visits—any channel that could be used to approach the consumer. When manufacturers like Dell computers sell directly to the consumer, they also perform the retailing function.
Retailing has become such an intrinsic part of our everyday lives that it is often taken for granted. The nations that have enjoyed the greatest economic and social progress have been those with a strong retail sector. Why has retailing become such a popular method of conducting business? The answer lies in the benefits a vibrant retailing sector has to offer–an easier access to a variety of products, freedom of choice and higher levels of customer service.
As we all know, the ease of entry into retail business results in fierce competition and better value for customer. To enter retailing is easy and to fail is even easier. Therefore, in order to survive in retailing, a firm must do a satisfactory job in its primary role i.e., catering to customers. Retailers’ cost and profit vary depending on their type of operation and major product line. Their profit is usually a small fraction of sales and is generally about 9-10%. Retail stores of different sizes face distinct challenges and their sales volume influences business opportunities, merchandise purchase policies, nature or promotion and expense control measures.
Over the last decade there have been sweeping changes in the general retailing business. For instance, what was once a strictly made-to-order market for clothing has now changed into a ready-to-wear market. Flipping through a catalogue, picking the right colour, size, and type of clothing a person wanted to purchase and then waiting to have it sewn and shipped was the standard practice in the earlier days. By the turn of the century some retailers set up a storefront where people could browse, while new pieces were being sewn or customized in the back rooms. Almost all retail businesses have undergone a similar transition over the years.