Wholesale trade and Retail trade industries: a comparison

Released
10/12/2019

This spotlight explores quarterly Labour Account data for the Wholesale trade and Retail trade industries. It follows similar spotlights for the Manufacturing industry and the Professional, scientific and technical industry in previous releases.

How the Wholesale trade and Retail trade industries are defined

The distinction between whether a particular business operates in the Wholesale trade or Retail trade industry is largely dependent on the final customer a particular business is selling to. In practice, business units may sell to a mix of both other businesses and households, and the relative proportions can change over time. For example, home hardware and office equipment suppliers are some of the business units that may concurrently sell to both other businesses and the general public in their respective premises, and such units can change their industry classification over time depending on which type of sales dominate.

The Wholesale trade industry includes business units mainly engaged in the purchase and on-selling, the commission based buying, and the commission based selling of goods, to businesses without significant transformation.

The Retail trade industry includes business units mainly engaged in the purchase and on-selling of commission based buying, and commission based selling of goods, to the general public without significant transformation. It also includes business units that purchase and on-sell goods to the general public using non-traditional means that includes internet.

A business unit which sells to both businesses and the general public will be classified to the Wholesale trade industry if it operates from premises such as warehouse or offices with little or no display of goods, has large storage facilities, and is not generally located or designed to attract a high proportion of walk-in customers.

In contrast, a business unit which sells to both businesses and the general public will be classified to the Retail trade industry if it operates from shop-front premises, arranges and displays stock to attract a high proportion of walk-in customers and utilises mass media advertising to attract customers.

The main source of data for this spotlight is the Labour Account, and, unless otherwise noted, all data are seasonally adjusted estimates.

Jobs in Wholesale trade and Retail trade

In the September quarter 2019, around 14% (or just under 3 in every 20 jobs) were in either Wholesale trade or Retail trade. Around 4.1% of all jobs in Australia were in the Wholesale trade industry and around 9.7% were in the Retail trade industry.

The number of filled jobs (that is, jobs with a person in them) in seasonally adjusted terms in the Wholesale trade industry increased by 178,500 jobs over the past 25 years – from around 415,000 jobs in September 1994, to 593,500 jobs in September 2019. Wholesale trade industry jobs increased by 28,300 jobs over the past year from September quarter 2018 to September quarter 2019 and increased by 14,100 in the past quarter.

In contrast, the number of filled jobs in seasonally adjusted terms in the Retail trade industry increased by 465,600 jobs over the past 25 years – from around 930,300 jobs in September 1994, to 1,395,900 jobs in September 2019. Retail trade industry jobs decreased by 18,300 jobs over the past year from September quarter 2018 to September quarter 2019 and decreased by 33,800 in the past quarter.

This increase over the past 25 years in filled jobs has seen the Wholesale trade industry remain the 11th highest employing industry, while Retail trade remained the 2nd highest employing industry.

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​​​​​​​Employment in Wholesale trade and Retail trade

The number of employed persons in the Wholesale trade and Retail trade industries has grown over the past 25 years, increasing from 413,900 person and 921,900 persons in September 1994 to 592,100 and 1,385,900 in September 2019 respectively.

Over the past 25 years, employment growth in the Wholesale trade and Retail trade industries has grown at a similar rate to most other goods related industries. The three highest growing goods industries over this period were Mining (136%), Construction (115%), and Transport, postal and warehousing (63%). The Wholesale trade industry grew (43%) while the Retail trade industry grew (50%) over this period.

Subdivisions within Wholesale trade and Retail trade

The annual Labour Account shows the distribution of filled jobs across the subdivision industries within the Wholesale trade and Retail trade industries.

Of the subdivisions within Wholesale trade, the Machinery and equipment wholesaling subdivision accounted for the largest share, while the Other goods wholesaling subdivision accounted for the second largest share of filled jobs in the Wholesale trade industry over the past 10 years.

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Of the subdivisions within Retail trade, the Other store-based retailing subdivision accounted for the largest share, while the Food retailing subdivision accounted for second largest share of filled jobs in the Retail trade industry over the past 10 years.

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​​​​​​​Hours worked

Over the past 25 years, total hours worked in the Wholesale trade industry increased by 38%, compared with 35% in Retail trade.

The average hours worked per employed person decreased over the 25 years period from 36.0 hours per week in the Wholesale trade industry in September 1994 to around 34.8 hours per week in September 2019. Average hours per week also decreased in the Retail trade industry, from 27.3 hours to 24.4 hours.

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​​​​​​​Incomes and payments

The Labour Account provides insights into the total labour income across each of the industries. Over the past 25 years, total compensation of employees increased by 226% while labour income from self-employment decreased by 5% in the Wholesale trade industry. In the most recent quarter, labour income from self-employment increased 0.3% to $193.7 million, while compensation of employees rose 1.7% to $11.6 billion, underpinning an increase in total labour income for the Wholesale trade industry of 1.7% to $11.8 billion.

Similarly, over the past 25 years, the total compensation of employees in the Retail trade increased by 259% and labour income from self-employment increased by 72%. In the most recent quarter, labour income from self-employment declined 9.0% to $983.5 million, while compensation of employees declined slightly to $13.3 billion, underpinning a decrease in total labour income for the Retail trade industry of 0.8% to $14.3 billion.

Age distribution

Data from the annual Jobs in Australia (cat. no. 6160.0) shows that the age structure of the Wholesale trade industry has not changed much in recent years. People aged 40-44 years comprised the largest proportion of job holders in the Wholesale trade industry in 2011-2012. Five years later, in 2016-2017, 30-34 year olds had become the largest proportion of job holders in the industry.

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Source: Jobs in Australia (6160.0)
 

In contrast, the age structure of the Retail trade industry has shifted right, with the age group with the largest proportion of job holders shifting from 18-20 year olds in 2011-2012 to 25-34 year olds in 2016-17.

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Source: Jobs in Australia (6160.0)
 

​​​​​​​Where to find further information about industries in Australia

The Labour Account is the best source of headline information on employment by industry. It provides an estimate of the number of jobs, hours worked, and associated labour income. Its estimates are complemented by other industry information, from Labour Force Survey statistics and Jobs in Australia (cat. no. 6160.0), which provide insights into the characteristics and distribution of people and their jobs in the labour market.