Retailers connect and intermediate between producers and consumers. With their market power they can influence suppliers as well as demanders.

Retailers can be divided into groups along different characteristics (Reinhold et al. 1980):


  • Location
  • Size of the sales area
  • Range and composition of the assortment
  • Number of stores
  • Interaction with customers
  • Price policy

The main retailer types are:

  • Grocery store
  • Specialized store (e.g. for wine, chocolate)
  • Department store (examples from Germany: Karstadt, Galeria Kaufhof)
  • Warehouse (e.g. Globus, Praktiker, Hornbach)
  • Supermarket (e.g. Rewe, Edeka)
  • Discounter (e.g. Lidl, Aldi)

Retailers are powerful market actors that intermediate between producers and the processing industry and consumers (Hirsch et al. 2020; Styles et al. 2012). Usually, environmental externalities such as those related to soil degradation are not reflected in their prices. When food producers want to sell products in stores, they have to sell them at first to retailers (Hansen and Skytte 2011). Direct marketing via internet shops is increasing, but the biggest reach is still via retailers. Therefore, if more people are to buy more environmentally-friendly products that include soil conservation as product characteristic, it is essential that retailers offer these products.

Environmental management differs among European countries and between retailer types (European Commission 2009). The focus can lay on direct environmental impacts (e.g. stores operations and logistics) or indirect environmental impacts (e.g. the products offered).

Possible governance instruments are minimum standards, financial incentives, retailer awards, voluntary agreements, labelling, business support, green procurement, public information and supporting innovation. Obligations and restrictions for the use of certain substances can be enacted. Also, collaborations with other stakeholders like NGOs, producers and manufacture are increasingly popular.

Retailers are profit-oriented companies. Driving forces for improving supply chain sustainability are especially Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), production efficiency saving and market position (Styles et al. 2012). Decision-making of retailers is influenced by marketing, logistics, merchandise and the individual supply chain structure (Hansen and Skytte 2011). The most important criteria for selecting suppliers are capacity, reliability, product price and quality (Styles et al. 2012). Because of the vulnerability of key supply chains to global pressure, additional environmentally friendly criteria are increasingly being added. They include resource price volatility, influences by climate change, water availability and soil degradation. 

The market power of retailers allows them to define standards and prices for producers (Hirsch et al. 2020). Producers include industrial companies and farmers. Retailers may collaborate with their suppliers and other stakeholders to achieve environmental improvements (Styles et al. 2012).


With the aim of high product sales, retailers try to influence consumers in their purchasing decisions by pricing, in-store positioning and marketing (Thaler and Sunstein 2008). They also sometimes respond proactively to societal and consumer pressures and trends, e.g. banning certain products from their stores.


The state sets a framework for the acting of retailers by legislation and guidelines for standards in the supply chain. Often retailers go beyond that and intensify standards or create new ones.

in progress ...


  • European Commission (DG ENV), 2009. Towards a greener retail sector – final report.
  • Hansen, T. H., Skytte, H., 2011. Retailer buying behaviour: a review. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research 8(3): 277–301. doi:10.1080/095939698342788
  • Hirsch, S., Lanter, D., Finger, R., 2020. Profitability and profit persistence in EU food retailing: Differences between top competitors and fringe firms. Agribusiness. doi:10.1002/agr.21654
  • Reinhold, S., Scheuring, F., Zürn, B., 1980. Wirtschaftslehre für den Verkäufer. Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden.
  • Styles, D., Schoenberger, H., Galvez-Matros, J.-L., 2012. Environmental improvement of product supply chains: A review of European retailer’s performance. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 65: 57–78. doi:10.1016/j.resconrec.2012.05.0029
  • Thaler, R. H., Sunstein, C. R., 2008. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. Yale University Press.