2016 US Retail Industry Overview

Statistics, Types of Retailing. Largest Chains

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It is a 2016 overview of the U.S. retail industry and all relevant information, facts, research, data and trivia related to the U.S. retail industry. Scroll down to find the definition of the U.S. retail industry, the size of the U.S. retail industry, and the types of retailing and retailers that comprise the U.S. retail industry. Also find links to the most current info, facts, research, data, and trivia about the largest U.S. retail chains in this article. 

What is the Retail Industry?

The retail industry is a sector of the economy that is comprised of individuals and companies engaged in the selling of finished products to end user consumers. Multi-store retail chains in the U.S. are both publicly traded on the stock exchange and privately owned.

An estimated two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) comes from retail consumption. Therefore, store closings and openings are used an indicator of how well the U.S. economy is doing overall. In 2016, a significant number of store closings and bankruptcies are an indication of both shifting consumer preferences, and an unsteady economy.

  • Store Openings and Retail Chain Expansions in 2016

Size of the US Retail Industry

Worldwide, total retail sales were more than $22 trillion in 2014, according to a report from eMarketer.com. In 2105 retail sales were expected to reach $24 trillion in 2015. 

Total annual U.S. retail sales have increased an average of 4.5% between 1993 and 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

The Largest U.S. Retail Industry Companies:

Measured solely by revenue numbers, the U.S. is the undisputed leader of the retail industry. Walmart is not only the largest global retailer, and it is also the largest company of any kind in the world. According to the 2015 Global Powers of Retailing report, 76 of the largest retailing companies in the world are based in the U.S. That's compared to 81 U.S. chains that revenues large enough to qualify them for the 2014 World's Largest Retailers list in 2014. Some of these world's largest U.S. based retail chains operate domestically, but a growing number of the large U.S. retail chains are establishing an international retail presence as well. 

The World's Largest Retailers - Global Retailing

Of the world’s 10 largest retail companies in the world, five of them are from the US and five are from Europe, according to the 2015 Global Powers of Retailing rankings. As the world moves towards a global economy, the U.S. retail chains large and small continue to expand their global reach by opening stores in countries throughout the world.

Retail Employment, Jobs, and Careers

As of May 2015, 15.7 million people were employed in the U.S. Retail Industry according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite a significant number of store closings and retail company bankruptcies in 2015, retail employment expanded every month in 2015, except for January. This indicates that the growth of the U.S. retail industry overall is outpacing aggregate of individual retail chain downsizings and bankruptcies.

Types of Businesses in the Retail Industry

Generally, any business that sells finished merchandise to an end user is considered to be part of the retail industry. Sales figures and economic data is sometimes reported separately for restaurants and automotive-related businesses, but by definition, they are considered to be members of the retail industry as well. It is the 13 major types of retailing businesses, along with the percentage of total sales each generates annually in the U.S. retail industry, according to the most recent figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau:

20.0% - Motor vehicle & parts dealers
13.0% - Food & beverage stores
12.5% - General merchandise stores (hypermarkets, department stores, discount stores, warehouse clubs)
11.0% - Food services & drinking places
10.0% - Gasoline stations (and convenience stores)
9.2% - Non-store retailers (Internet shopping, catalog, direct sales, etc.)
6.0% - Building material & garden dealers (home improvement)
6.0% - Health & personal care stores (pharmacy/drug stores)
5.0% - Clothing & clothing accessories stores
2.3% - Miscellaneous store retailers (specialty retailers)
2.0% - Furniture stores
2.0% - Electronics & appliance stores
1.7% - Sporting goods, hobby, book & music stores

Two Methods of Retailing in the Industry

Brick-and-Mortar Store Retailers – Those engaged in the sale of products from physical locations which warehouse and display merchandise with the intent of attracting customers to make purchases on site. 

Non-Store Retailers – Those engaged in the sale of products using marketing methods which do not include a physical location. Examples of non-store retailing include:

  • Mobile-only retailing (m-commerce)
  • Internet-only e-commerce
  • Infomercials
  • Direct Response television advertising
  • Catalogue Sales
  • In-Home Demonstrations
  • Vending Machines
  • Multi-Level Marketing

Busiest Season for the U.S. Retail Industry

Approximately 30% of the annual sales of the largest U.S. retail chains and almost 20% of the U.S. retail industry's annual sales come from the Christmas holiday shopping season. The strategic decisions and marketing tactics used on key shopping days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Super Saturday can make or break a retailer's revenue results for an entire calendar year.

Effects of the U.S. Retail Industry Recession and Future Outlook

No report on the U.S. retail industry would be complete without a mention of December 2007, which marked the official beginning of the most massive global retail recession since the Great Depression.

In September 2009, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke declared the recession was "technically" over in the U.S. In the retail industry, the recession caused record-breaking declines in sales, inventories, consumer confidence, and stock prices. At the time when Bernanke pronounced the recession to be over, experts were estimating the after effects of the recession would last from 18 months to 11 years. 

In 2015, although the U.S. retail industry is expanding, not recessing, the lingering effects of the Great Recession can be seen in the dramatic shift in consumer buying habits and preferences. The post-recessionary retail industry is all about the empowered consumer, and the most successful U.S. retail chains will need to be able to deliver what consumers want (and as quick as they want it, in the way they want to receive it) or die.