Retailing is a distribution channel function where one organization buys products from supplying firms or manufactures the product themselves, and then sells these directly to consumers. A retailer is a reseller (i.e., obtains product from one party in order to sell to another) from which a consumer purchases products. In the US alone there are over 1,100,000 retailers according to the 2002 US Census of Retail Trade.
In the majority of retail situations, the organization from which a consumer makes purchases is a reseller of products obtained from others and not the product manufacturer. But as we discussed in the Distribution Decisions tutorial, some manufacturers also operate their own retail outlets in a corporate channel arrangement. While consumers are the retailer’s buyers, a consumer does not always buy from retailers. For instance, when a consumer purchases from another consumer (e.g., eBay) the consumer purchase would not be classified as a retail purchase. This distinction can get confusing but in the US and other countries the dividing line is whether the one selling to consumers is classified as a business (e.g., legal and tax purposes) or is selling as a hobby without a legal business standing.
As a reseller, retailers offer many benefits to suppliers and customers as we discussed in the Distribution Decisions tutorial. For consumers the most important benefits relate to the ability to purchase small quantities of a wide assortment of products at prices that are considered reasonably affordable. For suppliers the most important benefits relate to offering opportunities to reach their target market, build product demand through retail promotions, and provide consumer feedback to the product marketer.