Date:17/02/2006 URL:
Back The devil is still in the retail

Retailers are at the end of the supply chain.

WHOLESALE reforms are yet to happen on the retail front. Meanwhile, the Government is testing waters by pushing in the tail first, in the form of `single brand' liberalisation on the FDI (foreign direct investment) front, as if coming to terms with the threat of protest from the Left and the Opposition. Just the right time, therefore, to explore the word `retail' before political parties take the issue head-on.

Retail, according to Concise Oxford English Dictionary, is "the sale of goods to the public for use or consumption rather than for resale." For instance, when, in a February 15 story, speaks of sharply falling crude oil prices dramatically cutting the retail price of gasoline, the beneficiaries are the end consumers in the US. It may be too wishful to expect such fall in retail price of petrol or diesel closer home.

Retail is "to sell in small quantities directly to the ultimate consumer," defines Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Since small quantities can add up to big numbers, businesses try out "special promotions, deep new year discounts, fantastic offers," and so on, though none of these has been enough to stop Scottish retailers having a distinctly gloomy start to 2006, as reports.

"The British consumer is staggering under a mountain of debt, while deflation also stalks the retail sector," reads the ominous story. And "the devil is still in the retail". How? "If the sector is to recover its spring, it looks like it is going to be a saucer-shaped recovery rather than a U-shaped one," writes Martin Flanagan in an essay dated February 14.

Retail is `not wholesale,' says Encarta. As a transitive and intransitive verb, the word means `sell goods'. Retail is to sell in small quantities, such as "by the single yard, pound, gallon, and so on," explains Webster Dictionary, 1913.

"Retailing consists of the sale of goods/merchandise for personal or household consumption either from a fixed location such as a department store or kiosk, or away from a fixed location and related subordinated services," states Wikipedia.

An obsolete meaning is "to sell at second hand". Retail at/for is used when talking about what is sold at a particular price, as in the example, "This model of computer is retailing at 650," that Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary offers.

Retail also means "to repeat regularly what is heard, especially gossip." Thus, King Richard III says: "Bound with triumphant garlands will I come and lead thy daughter to a conqueror's bed; to whom I will retail my conquest won... " Elsewhere in the same play, hear Prince Edward opine, "Methinks the truth should live from age to age, as `twere retail'd to all posterity."

The Bard also gets Lord Bardolph say in King Henry IV, "He is furnish'd with no certainties more than he haply may retail from me."

And you come across Biron talking about `wit's pedler' who "retails his wares at wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs," in Love's Labour's Lost.

Retailer is "a distributor that sells goods or services to consumers," defines Oxford Dictionary of Business. There are three categories of retailers, it explains: "multiple shops, cooperative retailers, and independent retailers."

Usually, a retailer buys goods or products in large quantities from manufacturers or importers, either directly or through a wholesaler, and then sells individual items or small quantities to the general public or end user customers, usually in a shop, also called store, explains Thus, "retailers are at the end of the supply chain."

On the origin of the word, 1911 Online Encyclopedia says, "French retaille, from which the word is taken, meant a piece cut off, from tailler, to cut, Medieval Latin taleare, Latin talea, a rod, cutting for planting." The English meaning appears in Anglo-French and in the Italian retaglic, selling by the piece. "The other meaning of retail, to repeat a story, is a transferred sense of an early meaning, to sell at second hand."

Sense of `recount, tell over again' is first recorded in 1594, says Online Etymology Dictionary. "The noun meaning `sale in small quantities' is from 1433." See `tailor', it suggests. There, it reads: "Tailor 1296, from Anglo-French tailour, from Old French tailleor `tailor,' literally `a cutter,' from tailler `to cut,' from Medieval Latin taliator vestium `a cutter of clothes' ... from Latin talea `a slender stick, rod, staff, a cutting, twig,' on the notion of a piece of a plant cut for grafting."

Shakespeare has many a tailor in his works; for instance, "tailor might scratch her where'er she did itch," is a line from The Tempest. Interestingly, `possible cognates include' the following: "Sanskrit talah `wine palm'... Greek talis `a marriageable girl'." Entail, detail and tally share the same origin.

Retail has a tail already, yet you can put tail in retail, says Ann Weber on, in a story dated February 15 about how "some small-business owners enjoy having their pets at work". Do you know what `retailing accordion' means? It is "the manner in which the width of a retailer's product assortment or operation changes over its lifetime."

Retail accordion theory a.k.a. general-specific-general theory is "a theory of retail institutional change that suggests that retail institutions go from outlets with wide assortments to specialised narrow line store merchants and then back again to the more general wide assortment institution," informs Dictionary of Marketing Terms on

`Wheel of Retailing' is another cyclical theory, which states that retail evolution process has three phases, viz. entry phase, trade-up phase, and vulnerable phase. "For example, the maturing or more traditional retail institutions provide facilities, such as rest rooms, carts, wide aisles, food courts and resting areas, and promise services, such as more variety in products, advertisements, delivery, and provision of credit," is a snatch from Sook-Hyun Kim's dissertation titled The Model for the Evolution of Retail Institution Types in South Korea on, reminding one of Reliance's highway `retail' experiment. "A new retail institution type has emerged in South Korea that is unique in comparison to any previous retail institution type," informs the author.

William J. Reilly's Law of Retail Gravitation, as explained on, has this formula to explain the purchases by residents of county A in the businesses of county B: "kPopulationAxPopulationB/(DistAB)2."

It seems the 1931 formula is "analogous to Isaac Newton's Law of Gravitation that says that two bodies attract each other with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them."

In the world of finance, retail refers to "individual and institutional customers as opposed to dealers and brokers," as defines. Retail credit is what is granted to consumers `for the purchase of goods or services'; retail house is "a brokerage firm that caters to individual customers rather than large institutions"; retail investors are "small individual investors who commit capital for their personal account rather than on behalf of another company".

Retail price is "the total price charged for a product sold to a customer, which includes the manufacturer's cost plus a retail markup." Apart from cost-plus pricing, which involves adding a margin to cost, there is also the `suggested list pricing' of manufacturers.

The Free Encyclopedia explains, "This simply involves charging the amount suggested by the manufacturer and usually printed on the product by the manufacturer." At times retail prices can be psychological prices or odd prices, such as `a little less than a round number, e.g., $6.95'.

"In Chinese societies, prices are generally either a round number or sometimes some lucky number. This creates price points," says Wikipedia.

A suggested external link,, has inputs on the history of retail trade, distance retailing, and so on. `Types of retail outlet,' according to the site are: "clothing and accessory store, department store, distance retailing, door-to-door retailing, chains, party retailing, single independent non-franchised store, street market, supermarket, van retailing, and warehouse club." Disappointing that our `single brand' store doesn't find a place in the list!

Retail price index or RPI is an index of the price of goods, more like our consumer price index. "The RPI is inclusive of VAT, and other taxes, and as such can change as a result of changes in taxation levels," explains Catch up, on, with `retail anthropology', a phrase that focuses on the behaviour of shoppers to learn what motivates them.

One such behaviour is `retail therapy', a humorous phrase to mean "the practice of shopping in order to make oneself feel more cheerful," as Concise Oxford English Dictionary notes. The one who pays for the therapy will surely feel the pinch, though.

Current twist in the retail tale, however, is more about the shock therapy that retail gets from antagonists who are averse to multinational retailers dipping into the booming market pie. So, borrowing Flanagan's line, may we say that the devil is still in the retail?

D. Murali

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