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The big five: an introduction to the main branches of the retail industry

Elise Tornos

The ‘customer-facing’ facet of the retail industry is supported by enormous and complex behind-the-scenes operations, but to simplify, the industry can be broken down into five discrete areas.

In the broadest terms, the retail industry involves selling goods or services to customers through various channels of distribution with a view to turning a profit. This makes it one of the world’s oldest professions, with evidence of markets and stores stretching back to antiquity.

Today, the industry includes everything from small local businesses to global retailing giants like Amazon and Zara. Their stores take various forms, including self-run websites, independent outlets, and shopfronts in large, high-traffic malls. In many cases, this ‘customer-facing’ facet of the business is supported by an enormous behind-the-scenes operation staffed by professionals with managerial, marketing, administrative, and other responsibilities.

However, despite the complexity of the retail industry, it’s still relatively simple to break down into five discrete areas, each of which includes numerous competing organisations.

Food and beverages

The food and beverages sub-industry includes supermarkets, liquor stores, fruit and vegetable grocers, fast food and takeaway businesses, and speciality food stores. They are supplied by local distributors, international vendors, and a network of fast-moving consumer goods companies,

This sub-industry is dominated by the leading supermarkets: Coles, Woolworths, and Aldi (all of which offer graduate positions). Other big players include the many multinationals in the fast-food space, such as McDonalds and KFC. Each of the companies is supported by a large corporate apparatus staffed by professionals responsible for managerial, marketing-focused, administrative, accountingand financial tasks.

Specialty retailing

Specialty retailers include florists, bookstores, newsagents, pharmacies, jewellers, apparel stores, and newsagents. These businesses often rely on efficient supply chains to maintain a viable profit margin, with stockists, financial professionals, account expertsand marketers working together to ensure maximum returns on the purchase of wholesale items.

Work, home, and lifestyle

In this category, you’ll find entertainment, communication, and technology retailers, such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman; sport, recreation, and leisure stores, like Rebel Sport; home living stores (IKEA); and homeware, trade, and gardening stores like Bunnings. To give you some sense of the size of this sub-industry, consider that Australians spend about $4.8 billion each year on computers alone.

General retail

This category contains some of Australia’s largest retailers such as Myer and David Jones, who will soon find themselves competing with Amazon. Consumer activity in such stores is seen as indicative of the health of the overall retail industry. Like most franchises and chain stores, businesses like Myer and David Jones rely on an extensive network of professionals who manage supply chains, monitor consumer patterns, accountants that ensure cost-effectiveness and work with distributors to ensure a steady supply of goods.

Wholesale and logistics

The wholesale and logistics branch of retail is considered by many to be an industry in its own right. It encompasses all activities related to the purchasing of goods from manufacturers, producers, and importers. It also involves the transportation of those goods, a complex endeavour essential to ensuring that products are available to consumers when they’re most needed (or wanted).