Another important channel member in many distribution systems is the wholesaler. Wholesaling includes all activities required to market goods and services to businesses, institutions, or industrial users who are motivated to buy for resale or to produce and market other products and services. When a bank buys a new computer for data processing, a school buys audio-visual equipment for classroom use, or a dress shop buys dresses for resale, a wholesale transaction has taken place.
The vast majority of all goods produced in an advanced economy have wholesaling involved in their marketing. This includes manufacturers who operate sales offices to perform wholesale functions, and retailers, who operate warehouses or otherwise engage in wholesale activities. Even the centrally planned socialist economy needs a structure to handle the movement of goods from the point of production to other product activities or to retailers who distribute to ultimate consumers. Note that many establishments that perform wholesale functions also engage in manufacturing or retailing. This makes it very difficult to produce accurate measures of the extent of wholesale activity. For purposes of keeping statistics, the Bureau of the Census of the United States Department of Commerce defines wholesaling in terms of the per cent of business done by establishments who are primary wholesalers. It is estimated that only about 60 per cent of all wholesale activity is accounted for in this way.
Today there are approximately 600,000 wholesale establishments in the United States, compared to just fewer than 3 million retailers. These 600,000 wholesalers generate a total volume of over USD 1.3 trillion annually; this is approximately 75 per cent greater than the total volume of all retailers. Wholesale volume is greater because it includes sales to industrial users as well as merchandise sold to retailers for resale.