Jonathan Reynolds

By Jonathan Reynolds

Retail & wholesale: diverse, job-rich, innovative and increasingly digital

Research recently completed by the Institute and commissioned by the retail trade body Eurocommerce shows the magnitude of the commerce sector, its diversity, its dynamism and contribution to innovation, growth, and its employment creation in Europe. It further shows that the sector is going through profound transformation with the growth of online trading at the heart of this.

The report was presented to Commissioner De Gucht at a recent launch event in Brussels. It highlights that one in 4 businesses in the EU is a retail or wholesale operation (contributing 10% of the EU’s GDP), with a diversity and multiplicity of business formats in both sectors – from global leaders to a myriad of small to very small businesses. This plurality of stores and channels responds to the wide diversity of consumer and customer preferences across Europe. The report also illustrates the impact of external factors, such as regulation on the competitiveness of business.

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Innovation is at the heart of retail and wholesale. A striking particularity is that retail and wholesale companies are more likely to engage in open, collaborative innovation than many other sectors, incrementally adapting their services and value propositions through a process of continual innovation. Examples include innovative technology systems, the development of successful private label brands, new processes and technologies related to more efficient supply chain management, product tracking and tracing, pricing devices on shelves, and electronic commerce.

The combined retail & wholesale sector employs 29 million people, or 1 in 7 working Europeans. In a climate of high unemployment, especially amongst young people (one in four retail employees is aged 15-24), both large and small retail and wholesale businesses offer young people a wide range of jobs to fit all skills and education levels.

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European employment in retailing, 2011

The digital economy is driving a major transformation of the European retail and wholesale sectors. For retail and wholesale firms, digitalisation brings opportunities and challenges for greater efficiency, new business models and trading formats, and creating new jobs with new skill requirements. Customers take advantage of this transformation by seeing more competitive prices, greater convenience and new opportunities for cross-border purchasing.

You can download the full Oxford study here.

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