Retail Services Spotlight

The Retail Services Industry in the United States


The United States has well-established distribution channels for all types of retail companies. The retail services industry provides an openly competitive environment that fosters strong business operations and spurs innovations that increase efficiency and reliability. The retail sector continues to grow. Total retail sales (including motor vehicle and parts sealers) from 1 million retail establishments in the United States surpassed $5 trillion in 2017. The U.S. retail industry directly employs about 29 million people and supports more than 42 million jobs. The National Retail Federation estimates that in 2017 retail sales increased by 3.9 percent, and e-commerce sales increased 13 percent in the same period. (The data provided by the National Retail Federation excludes automobile, gasoline, and restaurant sales).  Numerous opportunities for growth exist in the U.S. retail market for retail providers of all sizes, including individual direct marketers or direct sellers, small- to medium-sized franchise unit owners, and large “big-box” store operators. In 2017, FDI in the U.S. retail industry reached $88.6 billion.

Industry Subsectors

Retailers: This subsector employs approximately one out of five Americans. According to the National Retail Federation, independent and privately held retail businesses account for about 95 percent of the retail industry.  Retail stores are the face of the industry.  However, on-line sales continue to drive the success of the retail industry, especially during the holiday seasons.

Franchisers: Franchising has provided business opportunities in the United States for more than 150 years. The model is widely embraced because it provides an established plan for business expansion and a means of spreading risk. Franchising also offers assistance and support for new business owners by passing on a proven business model, along with training and support, advertising programs, and accounting and payroll management.

Franchising offers products and services in over 300 business categories, including food and beverage, lodging, health and educational services, professional services, auto care, accounting and tax services, real estate, home services, IT services and retail products.  As a leading job creator in both the U.S. and abroad, franchising continues to prosper in markets all over the world, no matter their level of development or sophistication.

Prepared in collaboration with the International Trade Administration's Industry & Analysis Unit (I&A)

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Industry & Analysis (I&A) staff of industry, trade and economic analysts devise and implement international trade and investment strategies to strengthen the global competitiveness of U.S. industries. By combining in-depth analysis with the International Trade Administration’s industry relationships, I&A devises initiatives to unlock export and investment opportunities for U.S. businesses, represent the interests of U.S. industry in trade negotiations, and publishes research on global opportunities for U.S. companies.