Distributive trade statistics - NACE Rev. 2
Data extracted in March 2020
Planned article update: June 2021
This article presents an overview of statistics for the European Union’s (EU) wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles sector (hereafter referred to as distributive trades), as covered by NACE Rev. 2 Section G. It belongs to a set of statistical articles on 'Business economy by sector'. Distributive trades are organized into three NACE divisions; wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (Division 45; referred to as motor trades), wholesale trade, except of motor vehicles and motorcycles (Division 46; referred to as wholesale trade), and retail trade, except of motor vehicles and motorcycles (Division 47; referred to as retail trade).
Most distributive trade (Section G) enterprises serve a local market and consequently this sector is characterised by a large number of enterprises: in total almost 5.8 million enterprises were classified to this sector in the EU-27 in 2017, making it the largest enterprise population among any of the NACE sections within the non-financial business economy (Sections B to J and L to N and Division 95); the total number of distributive trades enterprises in the EU-27 amounted to more than a quarter (25.9 %) of all non-financial business economy enterprises.
Together these enterprises generated turnover (sales) of EUR 8 694 billion across the whole of the EU-27 in 2017, again the largest value among any of the NACE sections within the non-financial business economy and equivalent to 35.3 %. A similar pattern was observed for employment, as the 28.7 million persons employed within the EU-27’s distributive trades sector accounted for 23.0 % of the non-financial business economy employment. In value added terms, the distributive trades sector was the second largest in the non-financial business economy, smaller only than manufacturing (Section C), generating EUR 1 159 billion of value added in the EU-27 in 2017 (or 18.7 % of the non-financial business economy total).
The apparent labour productivity of the EU-27’s distributive trades sector in 2017 was EUR 40 000 per person employed, some EUR 9 500 less per person employed than the non-financial business economy average. Average personnel costs were EUR 29 800 per employee in the EU-27’s distributive trades sector, also below the average of EUR 34 700 for the non-financial business economy. Apparent labour productivity and average personnel costs for the distributive trades sector were both among the lowest levels recorded across any of the NACE sections within the non-financial business economy in 2017. However, it should be noted that both of these indicators are pulled downwards by the traditionally high incidence of part-time employment in the distributive trades sector. The wage-adjusted labour productivity ratio is not directly affected by the incidence of part-time employment as it shows the ratio between value added and the total personnel costs without relating this to the number of persons producing the output or receiving wages and salaries. This ratio is adjusted for the relative importance of unpaid working proprietors and family workers, which is high in some parts of distributive trades, in particular for retail trade activities. The wage-adjusted labour productivity ratio for the EU-27’s distributive trades sector was 135.0 % in 2017 — 7.7 percentage points below the 142.7 % average for the non-financial business economy.
The gross operating rate shows the relation between the gross operating surplus and turnover and is one measure of profitability. The EU-27’s distributive trades sector recorded the lowest gross operating rate (5.1 %) among the NACE sections within the non-financial business economy in 2017, as the level of this ratio was pulled down by the exceptionally high turnover that is an intrinsic characteristic of wholesale and retail trade activities.
Around three out of every five (57.1 %) enterprises within the EU-27’s distributive trades sector in 2017 were in the retail trade subsector; most of the remainder were in the wholesale trade subsector (29.0 %), while the motor trades subsector had the smallest share (13.8 %) of the enterprise population within the distributive trades sector. In terms of turnover, the relative size of the retail and wholesale trade subsectors was reversed, as retail trade generated 28.8 % of distributive trades turnover, wholesale trade accounted for a 58.1 % share, while motor trades contributed the remaining 13.1 %.
Figure 1 shows a similar analysis of the sectoral structure based on employment and value added within the EU-27’s distributive trades sector. The relative importance of the motor trades subsector remained similar to its importance in terms of turnover: 12.0 % of value added and 11.9 % of employment in 2017. By contrast, retail trade had by far the largest share of the sectoral employment (55.6 %), while wholesale trade accounted for the highest share of sectoral value added (50.6 %) in 2017.
These large differences in the relative size of wholesale and retail trade activities when measured in value added and employment terms underline the significant differences in apparent labour productivity between these two activities — see Table 2b. Apparent labour productivity stood at EUR 27 000 per person employed for the EU-27’s retail trade sector in 2017. This was less than half the productivity level recorded for wholesale trade (EUR 63 000 per person employed); retail trade recorded the sixth lowest level of apparent labour productivity among the NACE divisions that make-up the non-financial business economy. Within the EU-27’s motor trades sector, apparent labour productivity stood at EUR 41 000 per person employed in 2017, which was close to the distributive trades average (EUR 40 000 per person employed) and EUR 8 500 per person employed less than the non-financial business economy average. Average personnel costs for the retail trade sector were EUR 22 700 per employee in 2017, which was slightly less than the level recorded for wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (EUR 32 100 per employee). These relatively low levels of apparent labour productivity and average personnel costs recorded for retail trade can to some extent be explained by a high incidence of part-time employment: the use of the wage-adjusted labour productivity ratio takes account of this to a large extent. Despite this, the wage-adjusted labour productivity ratio for the retail trade sector (120.0 %) remained well below the corresponding figure for wholesale trade (154.0 %).
The share of distributive trades in non-financial business economy value added in 2017 ranged from 10.8 % in Ireland to 23.4 % in Lithuania; in Norway the share was higher than in Ireland (12.6 %), whereas in Switzerland it reached 26.1 %. The employment share ranged from 18.6 % in Slovenia to 29.5 % in Greece. Despite this apparently wide range in the relative weight of the distributive trades sector in the Member States, when taking into consideration that the distributive trades sector is large in absolute terms, the sector as a whole is not one which displays any high degree of specialisation; the buying and reselling of goods is a common place activity that occurs on a daily basis in almost every village, town or city.
Top five countries contributed to 70.03 % of the EU-27’s value added in 2017 which was in line with EU-27’s non-financial business economy as a whole (69.6 %). Similar contribution was recorded for EU-27’s employment in 2017 were top five countries in wholesale and retail trade sector contributed 64.7 %. For EU-27’s non-financial business economy as a whole, top five countries contributed to 65.2 % of employment.
In value added terms, Germany was the largest EU Member State in all subsectors (see Table 3) in 2017. In the Netherlands, the specialisation rate for the wholesale trade was very high and amounted to 14.6 % of non-financial business economy value added. Equally remarkable was the Cyprus specialisation rate retail trade which contributed 10.3 % of non-financial business economy value added.
Among the EU Member States, the highest apparent labour productivity in manufacturing in 2017 was recorded in Luxembourg, where this measure reached EUR 103 200 per person employed. This was quite ahead of the next highest level of apparent labour productivity, namely EUR 75 900 per person employed recorded in Belgium. In Iceland, Norway and Switzerland the apparent labour productivity in distributive trade was above the EU-27 average. Iceland and Norway also recorded high average personnel costs, higher costs were recorded only in two EU Member States; Belgium and Sweden. Combining these two indicators gives the wage-adjusted labour productivity ratio, which is a measure of labour productivity that takes into account the very different levels of pay and social charges between Member States and activities. The lowest wage-adjusted labour productivity ratios in distributive trade was recorded in Greece (93.0 %) which is below parity (100. %). On the other side of the scale, the highest such ratios were recorded in Malta (215.5 %), Luxembourg (210.4 %) and Romania (207.1 %).
Size class analysis
In employment and value added terms, the enterprise size structure of the EU-27’s distributive trades sector was broadly similar to that of the non-financial business economy as a whole in 2017, with a somewhat smaller role played by large enterprises (employing 250 or more persons) and small enterprises (employing 10 to 49 persons), complemented by a larger role played by micro and medium-sized enterprises (employing from 50 to 249 persons). A size class analysis of the distributive trades sector indicates that large enterprises in this sector recorded a higher apparent labour productivity than SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) — see Table 5. This may, in part, be explained by a high incidence of part-time employment in large distributive trades enterprises, which is often the case for those working atypical working hours or at weekends.
Micro enterprises (employing fewer than 10 persons) had the highest level of employment among the four size groups in two out of three subsectors, the only exception being motor trades where medium size enterprises played a slightly more important role, it accounted for more than one third (34.4 %) of employment. At the other end of the scale, large enterprises in the retail trade subsector employed just 11.1 % of the employment and provided 4.9 % of value added — see Figure 6.
The French capital city region of the Île de France recorded by far the highest number of persons employed in 2017 in distributive trades, across NUTS level 2 regions within the EU-27. In this region containing Paris, the distributive trades employment was more than 1 million, which represented 3.5 % of the EU-27 total. The regions with the next largest distributive trades employment were Lombardia in northern Italy, Cataluña in western Spain and Düsseldorf in Germany, all three reporting more than half a million persons employed in distributive trades.
Overall the top 20 list was dominated by regions from the largest EU Member States, with six regions from Germany, four regions each from Spain and Italy, three regions from France, and one each from Greece, the Netherlands and Poland. The top 20 regions together accounted for 29.9 % of the EU-27’s distributive trades employment.
The relative importance of the distributive trades sector can be analysed by comparing the employment of this sector with the non-financial business economy employment. Among the 171 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available in 2017, the median share of the distributive trades sector in the non-financial business economy employment was 23.6 %, the highest median share among all of the non-financial business economy NACE sections. Employment within the distributive trades sector was very widespread, with very few regions being particularly specialised or unspecialised in this activity. The highest share was 34.9 % recorded for the region of Flevoland in the Netherlands, while the lowest share was 15.6 % for Île de France in the France.
The distributive trades sector accounted for 30.0 % or more of the non-financial business economy employment in 14 of the 171 EU regions for which data are available. These regions were mainly in Greece (four regions); Spain (three regions), France and Italy (two regions each); the Netherlands and Poland (one region each). There was only one capital city region within this group (Attiki in Greece).
Data sources and availability
Distributive trades includes wholesale and retail sale (sale without transformation) of any type of goods; wholesaling and retailing are the final steps in the distribution of merchandise. Sale without transformation is considered to include the usual operations (or manipulations) associated with trade, for example, sorting, grading and assembling of goods, mixing or blending of goods, bottling, packing, breaking bulk and repacking for distribution in smaller lots, storage, cleaning and drying of agricultural products, cutting out of wood fibreboards or metal sheets as secondary activities. Also included in distributive trades are the repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles but not the repair of any other goods. The distributive trades sector does not include any renting activities, for example, the renting of motor vehicles, industrial equipment or household goods. Distributive trades are organized into three NACE divisions:
- Division 45 covers wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles, as well as their repair; referred to as motor trades;
- Division 46 covers all wholesale trade, except of motor vehicles and motorcycles; referred to as wholesale trade
- Division 47 covers all retail trade, except of motor vehicles and motorcycles; referred to as retail trade
The analysis presented in this article is based on the main dataset for structural business statistics (SBS), size class data and regional data, all of which are published annually.
The main series provides information for each EU Member State as well as a number of non-member countries at a detailed level according to the activity classification NACE. Data are available for a wide range of variables.
In structural business statistics, size classes are generally defined by the number of persons employed. A limited set of the standard structural business statistics variables (for example, the number of enterprises, turnover, persons employed and value added) are analyzed by size class, mostly down to the three-digit (group) level of NACE. The main size classes used in this article for presenting the results are:
- small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): with 1 to 249 persons employed, further divided into;
- micro enterprises: with less than 10 persons employed;
- small enterprises: with 10 to 49 persons employed;
- medium-sized enterprises: with 50 to 249 persons employed;
- large enterprises: with 250 or more persons employed.
Regional SBS data are available at NUTS levels 1 and 2 for the EU Member States, Iceland and Norway, mostly down to the two-digit (division) level of NACE. The main variable analysed in this article is the number of persons employed. The type of statistical unit used for regional SBS data is normally the local unit, which is an enterprise or part of an enterprise situated in a geographically identified place. Local units are classified into sectors (by NACE) normally according to their own main activity, but in some EU Member States the activity code is assigned on the basis of the principal activity of the enterprise to which the local unit belongs. The main SBS data series are presented at national level only, and for this national data the statistical unit is the enterprise. It is possible for the principal activity of a local unit to differ from that of the enterprise to which it belongs. Hence, national SBS data from the main series are not necessarily directly comparable with national aggregates compiled from regional SBS.
The purchase of motor vehicles is usually the result of a long-term process, the collection of information and comparison between different vehicles and different suppliers. Retailing and repair of motor vehicles are to some extent substitutes, in that the purchase of a replacement vehicle may often be postponed, particularly in times of economic hardship, in favour of repairing an existing vehicle.
Wholesale trade is the resale of new and used goods to retailers, to industrial, commercial, institutional or professional users, or to other wholesalers. Equally, it includes acting as an agent or broker in buying merchandise for, or selling merchandise to, such persons or enterprises. Merchant (or own account) wholesalers take title to the goods while brokers and agents trade on a commission or fee basis. In the supply chain, wholesalers are located between producers and users, providing know-how and knowledge in markets for which they have expertise. Competition within the wholesale trade activity is often centered on providing more efficient services or more sophisticated value added services. Wholesalers can provide a range of services from basic storage and break of bulk, sorting, grading and logistics to pre- and post-production operations (for instance, labelling, packaging, bottling and installation).
Retailing is the resale of new and used goods mainly to the general public for personal or household consumption or use. Sales may be made in stores (mainly shops), at stalls or markets, or through other forms such as remote selling (mail order or internet), vending machines or door-to-door sales persons. Most retailers take title to the goods they sell, but some act as agents for a principal and sell either on consignment or on a commission basis. Retailing is typically the final stage of distribution between producers and consumers and many of the EU policies affecting this activity concern consumer protection.
In October 2011, a Directive on consumer rights was formally adopted, giving the governments of the EU Member States two years to implement national rules. The Directive aims to make purchases easier and safer, whether in-store or not, and covers a wide range of issues linked to the provision of price information, protection against late delivery and non-delivery, as well as setting out rights on issues such as cooling-off periods, returns, refunds, repairs and guarantees and unfair contract terms. The main benefits for consumers are expected to be:
- the elimination of hidden charges and costs on the internet;
- the banning of pre-ticked boxes on websites;
- increased price transparency;
- a 14-day period for customers to change their mind relating to purchases;
- better refund rights;
- the introduction of an EU-wide model withdrawal form;
- the elimination of surcharges for the use of credit cards and hotlines;
- clearer information on who pays for returning goods;
- better consumer protection in relation to digital products;
- common rules for businesses to make it easier for them to trade all over Europe.
More detailed analysis of distributive trades activities:
- SBS – trade (sbs_dt)
- Annual detailed enterprise statistics – trade (sbs_na_dt)
- Annual detailed enterprise statistics for trade (NACE Rev. 2 G) (sbs_na_dt_r2)
- SMEs - Annual enterprise statistics by size class – trade (sbs_sc_dt)
- Distributive trades by employment size class (NACE Rev. 2 G) (sbs_sc_dt_r2)
- Distributive trades broken down by size class of turnover (NACE Rev. 2 G) (sbs_sctrn_dt_r2)
- Breakdown of turnover by product - trade (dt_cpa)
- Turnover by product type for wholesale trade (NACE Rev. 2 G46) (dt_cpa_n46_r2)
- Annual detailed enterprise statistics – trade (sbs_na_dt)
- SBS - regional data - all activities (sbs_r)
- SBS data by NUTS 2 regions and NACE Rev.2 (from 2008 onwards) (sbs_r_nuts06_r2)