What Is the Difference Between Wholesale Price & Retail Price?

by Neil Kokemuller - Updated October 25, 2018
master butcher teaching apprentices in  a meat wholesaler butcher's shop.

In the distribution system, wholesale is the process of moving goods from manufacturing to distribution, while retail involves acquiring goods and reselling them to consumers. Wholesale prices are rates charged by producers or distributors to retailers, and retail prices are those charged by retailers to consumers.

Tips

  • The wholesale price is the rate charged by the manufacturer or distributor for an item, while the retail price is the higher rate you charge consumers for the same product.

Wholesale Price Basics

Producers or distributors use many different approaches to set wholesale prices. Ultimately, the goal is to earn a profit by selling goods for at a higher price than what it costs to produce them. If it costs you $10 in labor and materials to make one unit, a wholesale price of $15 gives you a $5 per unit gross profit. You need gross profit to cover your business overhead and irregular expenses.

Retail Price Basics

Retailers are in business to earn a profit, and they mark up the price on acquired goods to do so. If a retailer buys units for $10 and wants a $10 gross profit, it would double the retail sales price to $20. This particular approach, where the retail price is double the wholesale price, is known as keystone pricing. A "suggested retail price" is the price at which manufacturers or distributors recommend retailers list a particular item for sale. Retailers aren't normally obligated under the law to adhere to the SRP.

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Retail Vs Wholesale Purchasing

A major distinction between wholesale and retail is that wholesale buyers typically purchase their goods in bulk because it saves them money. Retailers sell individual units for personal consumption. When selling in bulk, a business achieves economies of scale. The costs to produce, package, promote and distribute 100 units of a good to one buyer are much lower than the same costs when selling 100 units to 100 different consumers. This economic principle is one reason that producers can sell to retailers at lower-than-retail prices.

Volume vs. Margin

Retailers try to balance profit objectives with marketable prices. If consumer demand is extremely low on a good priced at $20, the low volume offsets a relatively high gross margin of 100 percent per unit. Eventually, companies have to discount items that clog shelf space if they don't sell at initial retail prices. In some cases, retailers accept a loss or sell certain items at break-even pricing to attract customers. The hope is that effective in-store merchandising and sales activities lead to many purchases that culminate in a profit outcome in the short or long term.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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