Overview of Retail business

Retail is one industry we all have a part in—after all, it is the sale of products to individual consumers (as opposed to businesses). Aside from all the consumers, though, more than 15 million people in the United States are employed by retailers—that's 12% of the workforce. With U.S. annual retail revenues close to $4 trillion and over a million retail businesses in operation, there's no question that this is a huge industry. We all know that Wal-Mart is the world's biggest retailer, but add to that all those other big box stores, your favorite record store, the grocery store down the road, those catalogs in your mailbox, all the other jewelry, book, electronics and clothing stores and—well, you get the picture. Retail is big.

Retail goods are traditionally divided into durable goods, such as furniture and large appliances, which are expected to last at least 5 years, and nondurable goods, which include food, clothing, and other categories far too numerous to mention but which eventually form the bulk of the stuff you see on makeshift tables at garage sales.

The retail landscape has seen drastic changes in the last decade or two. In the old days, retail was dominated by small, local mom-and-pop stores (like the tiny neighborhood record store and the corner market), shopping malls, and traditional department stores ( e.g., Mervyn's and Macy's) that acted as those malls' "anchors." There are still plenty of mom-and-pop stores, malls, and department stores around today, but they're dominated in the retail landscape by mass merchandisers ( e.g., Wal-Mart and Target), discount clubs (e.g., Costco and Sam's Club), "category killers" (e.g., Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, and Staples), and specialty and online retailers (e.g., Coach, Amazon.com, and J. Crew).

If you don't think past sales clerk when thinking about the career opportunities offered by the retail industry, you'll miss a lot of the opportunities that are out there—including jobs for people with more of a head for business than for fashion, or electronics, or sporting goods, or whatever else the company you go to work for might do. While it's true that most of the industry's employees are salespeople and clerks, retail also offers opportunities for those interested in determining what goods will be sold, getting these goods to the right place at the right time, and managing the operations, finances, and administration of retail companies. Retail executive-training programs are crammed with energetic twenty-somethings, all hoping to perform those functions as sales and merchandise managers, buyers, and marketers at major retail organizations, such as Ann Taylor, Macy's, J.C. Penney, and the Gap.

- Contributed by Nithin Narayanan