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Commerce, Domestic Trade

domestic commerce, populous states, national distribution center, final consumer, New York City metropolitan area

Convenience is the key to consumer markets in the United States, whether it is fast food, movie theaters, clothing, or any of hundreds of different types of consumer goods. Products are being delivered to citizens in a more efficient manner, as industries and business firms have decentralized to more closely fit the distribution of population. Malls have sprung up in suburban areas, making the downtown department store obsolete in many smaller cities. Manufacturers also market their goods directly to customers in factory outlet malls. Prices are often lower in these outlets than in regular retail stores. Customers often travel hundreds of miles to shop at larger factory outlet malls. At the other end of the spectrum, mail order catalogs and Internet sites have made it possible for many consumers to purchase products directly from companies by mail or using personal computers.

Wholesalers and retailers carry on most domestic commerce, or trade, in the United States. Wholesalers buy goods from producers and sell them mainly to retail business firms. Retailers sell goods to the final consumer. Wholesale and retail trade together account for 16 percent of annual GDP of the United States and employ 21 percent of the labor force.

Wholesale establishments conducted aggregate annual sales of $3.2 trillion in 1992. The leading type of wholesale business is the distribution of groceries and related products, which accounts for 16 percent of all wholesale activity. Next in rank are motor-vehicle parts and supplies; petroleum and petroleum products; professional and commercial equipment, and machinery, equipment, and supplies. Wholesalers tend to be located in large urban centers that enable them to distribute goods over wide sections of the nation. The New York City metropolitan area is the country’s leading wholesale center. It serves as the national distribution center for a variety of goods and as the main regional center for the eastern United States. Other leading wholesale centers include Los Angeles, the main center for the western part of the United States; Chicago; San Francisco; Philadelphia; Houston; Dallas; and Atlanta.

In the mid-1990s retail establishments in the United States had aggregate annual sales of $2.2 trillion. Automotive dealers, with 23 percent of the total yearly retail trade, and food stores, with 18 percent, are the leading retailers. The volume of retail sales is directly related to the number of consumers in an area. The four leading states in annual retail sales—California, Texas, Florida, and New York—are also the four most populous states.

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