Wholesale and Retail Trade

Wholesale and Retail Trade

Distributing through the Right Channels

Industry Overview

The German retail and wholesale industries link manufacturers to customers. In total, it accounts for approximately 530,000 (163,000 in wholesale; 367,000 in retail) companies that employ about 4.9 million (1.9 m in wholesale; 3 m in retail)people. The sector realizes an annual turnover of approximately 1.5 trillion euro (1.1 trillion in wholesale; 498 billion in retail).

Inasmuch as Germany is one of the top exporting nations, it s economic success also depends on imports to a large degree. For this purpose, wholesalers, international trading companies and commercial agents support foreign importers with their broad knowledge of the German and European markets.

German retailers know the preferences of local consumers very well and help to supply Europe’s largest consumer market of 80 million potential customers with the products it requires. Their modern retail structures and innovative sales services support suppliers in meeting the consumers’ demand.

Our Industry in Numbers (2013)

  • 530,000 companies employ about 4.9 million people or more than 15 percent of all employees in Germany.
  • With approx. 1.1 trillion in turnover, wholesale is Germany’s second largest industry behind manufacturing.
  • Retail turnover developed solidly over the last years and is close to reaching EUR 500 billion (2012).
  • Private spending remained strong at EUR 1,572 billion in 2013.

Market Potential

RETAIL - The German retail industry employs 2.9 million individuals who work for 410,000 companies making it the third largest industrial sector after the manufacturing industry and the skilled trades and crafts sector. Its annual turnover of more than 400,000 billion Euros is mainly earned by small and medium sized enterprises. As a result of stable consumer spending, retail revenues remained relatively constant during the world financial crisis. In 2010, retail sales showed a strong development and increased by 1.8 percent. This trend is bound to continue as consumer sentiment in 2011 is expected to remain strong. GfK GeoMarketing forecasts a two-percent increase in Germany's retail turnover for 2011.

WHOLESALE AND COMMISSION TRADE - The German wholesale sector accounts for 120,000 companies with 1.4 million employees. Furthermore, there are approximately 70,000 specialized commercial agencies active in the German market. Traditionally, the wholesale industry provides the indispensible link between production and retailing. Today, wholesale businesses have evolved into modern marketing and distribution enterprises that offer broad supply chain management and other business-to-business services. In 2010, the turnover of German wholesale companies increased by 13 percent in nominal terms to a total value of 420 billion Euros, according to preliminary figures. However, due to the world financial crisis and its effect on international trade, revenues are expected to have decreased in 2009. 

DISTANCE SELLING - In 2010, turnover of distance selling businesses accounted for 32.4 billion Euros, which led to an annual growth of 7 percent. Especially E-commerce is constantly expanding its market share. In 2010, online purchases amounted to 23.7 billion Euros. Over the last five years, E-commerce experienced growth rates of more than 10 percent in average. Sixty six percent of all distance purchases were performed online, while 44 percent were ordered via traditional distance sales channels like mail order and teleshopping. Emerging trends are mobile commerce and social media.

Market Access

There are no general provisions for border-crossing distribution services except for those product-related rules and regulations that affect the movement and sales of goods sensitive to health or public safety. Further details on safety and import requirements are available in our section "Market Entry".

ESTABLISHMENTS - Retailing usually will require proximity to the market and, thus, the establishment of local subsidiaries. Enterprises who intend to set up a German business branch are offered comprehensive support by Germany Trade & Invest, the German investment promotion agency.

POINT OF SINGLE CONTACT - Service providers from EU Member States may address their local Points of Single Contact for support with the administrative procedures that need to be observed in Germany. More information is available in our section ''EU Service Market.''

Finding Providers

Businesses who intend to enter the European market can take advantage of German distributors' extensive knowledge on the preferences of local consumers. Especially foreign small and medium enterprises (SME) otherwise may find it difficult to place their products. German wholesalers and import trading companies help to overcome lack of information on the market, mitigate financial risks and navigate through legal requirements.

The National Association of German Commercial Agencies and Distribution (CDH - Centralvereinigung Deutscher Wirtschaftsverbände für Handelsvermittlung und Vertrieb e.V.) represents more than 60,000 independent commercial agencies (manufacturers' representatives), and brokers facilitating the sale of goods. The CDH provides an online plattform that supports manufacturers in finding agents by placing a classified advertisement on their website. Agents who are members of the CDH will be notified per e-mail and can contact manufacturers directly.

If you are looking for distributors specialized in a specific product or industrial sector, you may also browse the section ''distribution channels'' of our pages on the specific industrial sector.

Entrepreneurs who are looking for a specific business contact may publish their enquiry free of charge on the iXPOS Export Community, the B2B marketplace in Germany. It is powered by Germany Trade and Invest, the network of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Germany and abroad as well as many other players.

Supporting Institutions

The local Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHK - Industrie- und Handelskammern) are the mandatory professional organizations for retail and wholesales businesses. Besides representing their members' interests and offering individual support, they supervise the qualifications of entrepreneurs and operators. More information on mandatory professional organizations in Germany is available in our section on business registration.

The German Retail Federation (HDE - Hauptverband des Deutschen Einzelhandels) is the umbrella organization of the German retail sector, which consists of about 410,000 independent companies. It represents the needs and interests of the whole retail sector. HDE supports individual companies in all professional subject matters and is in turn supported by regional and sectoral member organizations.

The Federation of German Wholesale and Foreign Trade (BGA - Bundesverband Großhandel, Einzelhandel, Dienstleistungen e.V.) is the leading organization for the wholesale, foreign trade and business services sector in the Federal Republic of Germany.

The German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association (BVH - Bundesverband des Deutschen Versandhandels) represents the legal and economic interests of its members, provides information and advisory services, and promotes the constructive dialogue amongst its members. Currently it has around 300 members - large and small distance selling companies which utilize the sales channels catalogue, internet, direct sales and TV.


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Point of Single Contact

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Individual support with administrative procedures for EU service providers.