What is a Retail Store?

Understanding what can be considered a “retail store” first depends on understanding what the definition of “retail” really is. Fairly straightforward, “retail” means selling something (either consumer goods or consumer services) to customers and, as a result, earning a profit. Unlike other stores, a retail store is designed for the goods being sold to be utilized directly by the consumer.

Today, there are multiple channels to distribute retail, which is why there are so many types of retail stores currently in existence. Whether online or in an actual storefront, retail stores operate in a variety of ways. But, again, in order for a store (or a sale) to be classified as “retail”, the buyer must be the user/consumer.

In the United States alone, there are close to 4 million retail stores and establishments in existence. Employing over 40 million people, these retailers are the largest private sector employer in the entire country.


Retailer Categories

Because retail stores operate up and down an incredibly long spectrum, it can be helpful to categorize them. Here are four general retailer categories to consider:

1. Hardline Retailers: These retail stores sell goods that are designed to last for years, like kitchen appliances, living room furniture, and automobiles.

2. Soft Goods Retailers: Unlike hardline retailers, retailers selling soft goods (or consumables) expect consumers to return frequently. Some soft goods items include things like personal toiletries and clothing.

3. Food Retailers: Food retailers sell exactly what you would expect them to sell — food.

4. Art Retailers: In addition to fine art, art retail stores also sell items like pianos and books.


Types of Retail Stores

In addition to there being major retailer categories, there are also categories for types of retail stores. Some of the most popular types of retail stores include:

1. Department Stores: One of the oldest types of retail stores, department stores tend to be large, offering consumers plenty of different types of products to purchase in one place. Stores like Dillard’s and Target can be classified as department stores.

2. Warehouse Stores: In order to get access to a lot of warehouse stores, you need to have a membership. Not known to be “inviting” or “welcoming” (or even that attractive”, warehouse stores gain customers through their low prices. Current popular examples include stores like Costco and Sam’s Club.

3. Local Stores: Nostalgically referred to as “Moms and Pops”, these small local stores tend to offer niche products and a quaint, physical storefront.

4. Ecommerce Stores: Using the internet as the main source of customers, eCommerce stores rely on delivery services, attractive photographs, and well-designed websites to thrive. Major examples of eCommerce stores today include Etsy and Amazon.

5. Big Box Stores: Typically carrying one type of product, like electronics or home goods, big box stores are major retailer players. Current examples include retail stores like Best Buy and HomeGoods.

6. Supermarkets: Because you help yourself at a supermarket, operation costs for this type of retail store are lower than others. Supermarkets are defined by offering products for all basic household needs, from food, to laundry, and personal hygiene.


There are, of course, almost endless possibilities in terms of classifying retail stores. And, as online technology and eCommerce platforms continue to change, the way consumers shop for retail will continue to transform as well.

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