from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Trade in Gdansk

When trading the economic activity is the exchange of tangible or intangible goods between economic agents from the production to the consumer designated or otherwise use goods.


Intérêts des nations de l'Europe, dévélopés relativement au commerce , 1766

Material goods are, in particular, goods and commodities , intangible goods are services ( commercial agents ), receivables ( loan trade ), financial products ( currency trading ) or concessions , licenses , patents , trademarks , trademarks , industrial property rights , company values and copyrights . The wholesale or retail trade with material goods is typically very stock-intensive , so that high storage risks and capital commitment are associated with it. Companies , private households or the state with its subdivisions can be considered as economic agents participating in trade .

Trade or trade in goods includes the purchase of goods from various manufacturers or suppliers , the transport , storage and consolidation of the goods into an assortment as well as their sale to commercial buyers ( wholesale ) or to non-commercial buyers ( retail ) without the goods being material changed or processed. The traders ( trading companies ) usually operate with the intention of making a profit . The market economy performance of the entire trade, like every single trade operation, lies in the permanent design and organization of four markets, namely the sales market, the procurement market, the competitive market and the internal market. The activity of trading companies represents a productive service sui generis . In contrast to production companies, no new material goods are produced in trade - apart from certain refinements customary in the industry; The trading companies differ from pure service companies in terms of their goods business and the associated warehousing .

Often trading occurs in connection with manufacturing activities (e.g. handicraft trade) or services (e.g. securities trading). In addition to trading in goods, business-like transactions can also be carried out with other goods such as capital , services or knowledge . Mostly scarce goods are traded . This shortage is u. a. This is based on the fact that a natural raw material only occurs in some areas, that production and consumption differ in terms of time or quantity, or that certain goods are only produced by many people in a work-sharing network. With increasing globalization and differentiation of society, there is a growing need for the “procurement and sales specialists” in retail to be active in organizing markets.


Fruit trade in a local market in Dhaka , Bangladesh

A general distinction is made between floor trading , mail order , distance selling and online trading . While in floor trading (such as the supermarket ), customers and dealers face each other directly and exchange goods and payments directly with one another, the other types of trade still require intermediary institutions such as freight forwarders (for the consignment of goods ) or credit institutions (for payment ). This creates fulfillment risks for both contractual partners , which can be reduced or eliminated entirely through certain measures (see Settlement ).

From a legal point of view, contracts are concluded between trading partners . There is a trading relationship between the partners involved in trading . A distinction can be made between domestic trade (local, regional, national trade) and foreign trade (long-distance trade). The country borders border trade between trading partners in the European Union is one of the intra-EU trade.

Concept history

When defining trade, according to Rudolf Seyffert, it is irrelevant whether this function is fulfilled by independent institutions (trading companies, trading companies, trades ) or by affiliated institutions (producer trade, craft trade, agricultural trade, consumer trade, state trade).

While in early primitive societies this exchange of goods took place as an exchange of goods for goods ( barter , exchange in kind ), the developed modern monetary economies practically only know trade in the form of buying and selling goods for money ( trading business ). The term "trade" (also "junk trade") appeared as early as the 15th century, but came up to the end of the 18th century - and thus in the emergence and first heyday of urban trade and long-distance trade - behind other terms such as Merchantship , action, commerce or commerce back.

It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that trade was understood in the narrower sense used today by commercial management as the commercial purchase of material goods ( merchandise ) and their sale without any significant processing or processing ( trade in goods ). “Trade in goods is the turnover, movement of goods, and turnover of goods. This sales performance is the basic function that determines trade. ”(Rudolf Seyffert) Trading companies are those institutions that perform this basic function (and other trade functions) a) commercially, b) exclusively or predominantly, c) in their own name and d) for their own account Take risk. This makes them the specialists in procurement and sales.

However, the above definitions do not yet reveal the specific importance of trade for the market economy. This becomes clearer in the following description: "Trade is the permanent and simultaneous organization of sales markets for different suppliers of goods and procurement markets for different customers for goods and services." With this, trade does something constitutive for the market economy that no other commercial sector does: Trade generates markets, not abstract and intellectual, but concrete places for the exchange of goods and services. This applies to brick-and-mortar retail as well as mail order and online retail with their time and location-independent sales and procurement opportunities.

In addition to the institutions that conduct trade in the narrower sense, trade-like institutions are involved in the exchange of goods, e.g. B. Commercial auxiliaries, commercial agencies , commission agencies and commission agents .


The spread of products says nothing about how they are transported. When considering prehistory and early history , trade is therefore equated with the long-distance transport of goods, mostly raw materials, which do not naturally occur at the site and (after a long time) can still be identified by archaeologists, such as flint or clam shells and snail shells (see also cowboy money ). According to this definition, Homo sapiens had been trading for a very long time. In contrast, for Neanderthals there is no evidence of the use of objects from a distance of more than 50 kilometers. Hence it can be assumed that the Neanderthals lacked the ability to trade. It is believed that this difference was rather detrimental to Neanderthals; this underscores the importance of trade to modern man.

The flint streets are clear evidence of the already developed trade from the Neolithic Age .

One of the earliest written documents of mankind - the Mesopotamian Codex Hammurapi from the 18th century BC. - deals primarily with property and trade, about a third of the text passages contain rules for trading and treating slaves , a valuable commodity. The Greek historian Herodotus described in the 5th century BC BC first a form of trading by the Carthaginians in West Africa, which later became known as silent trading and was described in many regions of the world. In silent trading, both trading partners deposit their goods in one place and exchange them without seeing or hearing one another. It is unclear to what extent this supposedly very early form of trade should be understood as historical or consistently legendary.

History and social significance of trade

The trade in goods between the manufacturer and the users of his products has been done for ages. Traders procured and delivered the products, initially as long-distance traders in early cultural times . If they, as the bearer of the economic goods (raw materials, operating resources, capital and consumer goods), did not operate the transport of goods on their own, they did, however, organize the movement of goods. Long-distance trade relations intensified with the advanced cultures and states. It was not until the Middle Ages that regional and local trade developed, which, thanks to its class structure and the knowledge that was passed down in merchant families for centuries, was also involved in the expansion of the cities. The ups and downs of the empire led to fluctuations in regional and supra-regional integration. So passed centuries comparatively intense trade relations between the water already highly differentiated gem rich Indus civilization (2600-1900 BC..) And the Sumerian culture ; with the disintegration of the Indus culture, both domestic and foreign trade collapsed. In what was then peripheral Europe , there was evidence of barter for the Bronze Age . The Amber Road is an example of a prehistoric trade route .

In antiquity , new empires and empires were formed (such as Minoan Crete , the trading posts of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians as well as the various Greek city-states and finally the Roman Empire in the west, Han China in the Far East), and long-distance trade intensified along the Eurasian axis . For example, Chinese silk was worn in Rome, evidence of the exchange on the Silk Road . With the Eurasian migration , these pillars of long-distance trade collapsed either completely or temporarily. In the Roman Empire , with the collapse of central power, there was also an internal de-differentiation and the collapse of numerous cities.

In the Eurasian high Middle Ages , the empires stabilized or new empires were formed (e.g. the huge but short-lived Mongol empires ). Eurasian long-distance trade increased again, again becoming more intensive and systematic than in the previous phase. Europe accelerated the pace of development and gradually developed from a peripheral region to a center. The European maritime trade in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era was largely dominated by city republics (e.g. Venice , Genoa , Flemish and Dutch cities and Hanseatic cities ). At that time, "distance merchants" operated for the first time, according to the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies , as the professional group who bring arithmetic, purposeful thinking into traditional " communities " and thus "socialize" them globally . The merchants' guilds (associations of merchants) such as B. the Hanseatic League . The search for new sea routes to India and China (see India trade ) was an essential motivation for the voyages of discovery at the end of the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the modern era. So Christopher Columbus was convinced that he had reached India, which was the actual goal of his trip.

With the blossoming of the self-sufficient medieval cities with their own coinage and their own market regulations supported by guilds and guilds, a glamorous urban retail trade emerged, supported by such successful merchant dynasties as those of the Fugger , Welser , Paumgartner and Tucher in Augsburg or Nuremberg . It was not until the beginning of industrialization that there was an institutional specialization and division into wholesale and retail .

The history of ideas in retail must be distinguished from the institutional history of retail , the history of its institutions, activities and manifestations . Traditionally, it is also called "history of dogma", which is not aptly named, since the newly emerging ideas in trade are not dogmatic doctrines, but new practical business knowledge and new commercial techniques - a broad field from the development of coinage and metrology Beginning of double-entry bookkeeping through to the introduction of modern technologies in trade such as web-based global business contacts or RFID technology. The epoch of "action science", which lasted from the 16th to the end of the 18th century, produced an abundance of textbooks, thoroughly systematic in structure. However , as collections of recipes and moral instructions for the merchant, they had little in common with the later and present understanding of commercial science and rather represented "books for teaching the merchant, books for practice" (Eduard Weber).

The social significance of trade is extremely varied and has been subject to different assessments over the centuries. On the one hand, and by all means predominantly, the importance of retail for society is positively rated. They range from the early maintenance of (commercial) education - up to the invention of the printing press, essentially only the clergy, parts of the nobility and merchants knew reading, writing and arithmetic - to increasing general prosperity and the standardization of legal rules for business transactions and payments up to the modern “democratization of consumption”. The stationary retail trade in particular, with its diverse range of goods and ever new "events" as an "experience stage" (Karl Kaufmann), not only shapes the style of consumption, but also largely social life, be it in the symbiosis of small and medium-sized businesses with department stores in the city centers , be it through elegance and luxury in shopping malls or through cheap supplies in extra-urban shopping centers. The long-standing slogan of a department store group “The world is our guest” reflects the “cultural function of retail” (Karl Oberparleiter): providing everyone with direct access to consumer goods from all cultures. - On the other hand, the social assessment of trade as a negative characterizes an ongoing "tradition of prejudice" (Schenk). Disparaging judgments about trade and merchants were already widespread in antiquity and in the medieval teaching of the church fathers (patristicism), which mainly referred to the "usurious" increase in money and the interest of merchants. In modern times, it was above all scientific socialism, above all Marx's thesis of the unproductiveness of trade, and National Socialism, with its contemptuous ideology against the "large Jewish capital" of department stores, that created an atmosphere hostile to trade. Even the GDR economics of domestic trade showed disregard for trade for society in its prohibition of free price calculation, the abolition of private wholesaling and obstacles to private retailing. But even in the present, prejudices against "the" trade are virulent, be it in negative reports about alleged "manipulation" of the customers in the shop, be it in communal interventions in the choice of location and range of retail businesses based on "product lists" or be it - sublimated - in derogatory language. "In the end [...] it can be assumed that extensive or even complete lack of prejudice towards retail must remain an illusion, in theory as well as in everyday political and operational practice."

Commercial languages

Long-distance traders who traded with foreign peoples could not communicate with foreign merchants in their mother tongue. That is why languages ​​have developed that were used for mutual understanding on the occasion of trade relations. On the one hand, these were languages ​​of supraregional importance, such as Farsi or Haussa , and, on the other hand, makeshift languages ​​that were used exclusively for commercial purposes and had no native speakers ( pidgin languages ). Well-known trading languages were about the lingua franca (Sabir) and Russenorsk .

Aspects of Modern Commerce

Trade is one of the determining factors for an economy . This applies equally to domestic trade that takes place within national borders or within a group of states such as B. the EU expires, as for cross-border foreign trade and transit trade . If goods are sold abroad, one speaks of export , in the opposite case of import .

According to the exclusive or predominant customer group, wholesale (with bulk consumers, resellers ) and retail (with end consumers or consumers ) can be distinguished in domestic trade , and independent and contractually bound (vertically or horizontally cooperating ) trade according to the degree of independence . Depending on the location of the commercial activity, brick- and- mortar retail must be distinguished from outpatient retail and from electronic retail (or e-commerce).

If the export of a country exceeds the import , one speaks of a foreign trade surplus . Exports have the advantage that money “flows” into the country, but the disadvantage that one is heavily dependent on the economic well-being of the countries to which one exports. An economic crisis in one country can “spill over” to another. Imports from so-called low-wage countries also have an ambivalent effect: on the one hand, they can make domestic supply cheaper, on the other hand, the competing domestic producers can lose corresponding market shares. If a country's imports exceed its exports, one speaks of a foreign trade deficit . Imports basically have the advantage that you can obtain goods that are not available in your own country (e.g. raw materials or fruits that do not grow in your own country). But this has the disadvantage that you make yourself dependent on other countries and their deliveries. This was particularly evident in the oil crisis , when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries drastically reduced the amount of oil produced , which triggered a global energy crisis.

To explain the importance and advantages of foreign trade , one can use the concept of comparative cost advantages , e.g. B. due to differences in technology (Ricardo) or resources ( Heckscher-Ohlin theorem ), on the other hand, the theory of incomplete competition and many other foreign trade theories .

Many concepts have been developed to explain the importance and benefits of domestic trade . The most important are (according to Schenk ): the concept of the division of labor, the theory of comparative cost advantages, the theory of comparative utility advantages, Schär's law, the theory of trade functions, the theory of market and competition generation, the transaction theory , concepts of economic geometry and the gate- keeper theory.

Overall, modern trade is characterized by rapid structural change and dynamism (“change in trade”) like hardly any other economic sector. As a conspicuous feature of this change Robert had Nieschlag the emergence of ever new forms of operation or types, especially the retail sector as a quasi-regularity with described "dynamic in the trade." The macroeconomic trade dynamics have been characterized by the following upheavals in recent decades:

  • economic upheavals (e.g. cooperation and concentration , rationalization, company comparison and company advice, self-service, differentiation between company types, emancipation and independent trade marketing )
  • technological upheavals (e.g. mechanization and computerization , modernization, electronic commerce )
  • organizational upheavals (e.g. operational, inter-company and inter-company reorganization)
  • Informational changes (e.g. IT-controlled information procurement and utilization, internal and inter-company use of electronic media)
  • social upheavals (e.g. social commitment, flexibility, cooperative management style )

Ethical aspects

As with all human actions, ethical aspects are also discussed in commercial trade . For example, they shape so-called fair trade as a model of socially and ecologically compatible trade in which all levels of trade from producers to consumers are deliberately viewed from an ethical point of view ("fair" in the sense of just ) and in which - above all - Agricultural producers in developing countries should be granted fair remuneration. However, this choice of terms entails the risk that “normal” trade will be viewed as unfair or less fair and that the “tradition of prejudice” will be perpetuated against trade (Schenk) . There is no doubt that modern retail management uses clever psychotactic and strategically secured retail marketing measures to induce market participants to make certain (sales or purchase) decisions . Handles on the self-service shelf, the placement of inexpensive items in the stooping zone , oversized shopping trolleys, suggestive background music and a thousand other practices we encounter every day. However, such sales “tricks” cannot per se be viewed as ethically questionable, let alone as incapacitating manipulation, at least not as long as the (purchase) decisions are not based on surprise, but on conviction and free willful decision of the buyer.

Specialty trade

The term specialty trade is used in various meanings. In foreign trade , for example, the Federal Statistical Office describes the cross-border movement of goods between the survey area and other countries as special trade. Foreign in the sense of the foreign trade statistics is the area outside the survey area. The survey area of ​​the foreign trade statistics includes the Federal Republic of Germany (without the customs exclusion Büsingen ). In domestic trade , those types of business or types of business are referred to as specialty trade, which differ from other types of business, including specialist trade, through extreme range specialization (mostly with a narrow and very deep range ). Examples would be wholesale of live fish or wholesale of marine equipment and retail of wool or retail of baby supplies.


Today world trade is in the context of globalization . Under the leadership of the World Trade Organization ( WTO ), international customs barriers are to be dismantled and the free movement of goods ( GATT ) and services ( GATS ) promoted. This free trade policy is controversial; Critics of globalization see this as cementing the disadvantages of the countries in the so-called underdeveloped Third World and also impairing the sovereign administration of the states (“loss of sovereignty”).

However, in addition to the theory (see above), empirical evidence has shown that the international exchange of goods leads to prosperity. Since the 1950s, poverty (see there) in the world has continuously decreased, and the number of people threatened by hunger has also decreased . This basic idea of ​​a free market economy is often limited by crises, corruption and state intervention in the states. Instead of allowing trade, many areas are closing themselves to the advantages of free trade. On the other hand, some economists assume that the third world could only make it into the first world with start-up aid, for example through development aid . Infrastructures first have to be set up and human capital first accumulated.

Today the idea of ​​globalization has also found its way into domestic trade. Under the impression of intensifying domestic competition and favored by modern traffic and transport, secure payment transactions and global Internet communication, more and more domestic wholesalers and retailers are opening up new markets worldwide. The phase of "transnationalization" (UC Täger) or internationalization (establishment of branches in neighboring countries), which began in the 1980s, is also in a phase of globalization (by means of takeovers, establishment of branches) for larger trading companies that traditionally already buy worldwide or building the new trading system in far-flung countries).

Over 90 percent of general world trade and more than 65 percent of trade in oil were carried out by sea in 2010.


  • William Bernstein : A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World from Prehistory to Today . Atlantic Books, 2008, ISBN 1-84354-668-X .
  • Fernand Braudel : Social history of the 15th-18th centuries Century. The trade, Munich 1986.
  • David Christian: Maps of Time. An Introduction to Big History. Foreword by William H. McNeill. University of California Press, Berkeley 2005, ISBN 0-520-24476-1 .
  • Lothar Müller-Hagedorn: The trade. Stuttgart 1998.
  • Thomas Rudolph : Modern Commercial Management - An Introduction to Commercial Doctrine . Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag, 2nd edition, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-7910-2892-7
  • Hans-Otto Schenk: Market economics of trade. Gabler, Wiesbaden 1991, ISBN 3-409-13379-8 . (Softcover Reprint 2012, ISBN 978-3-322-84581-8 ).
  • Hans-Otto Schenk: Trend-setting upheavals in retail. BBE-Verlag, Cologne 1999, pp. 17-47.
  • Hans-Otto Schenk: Psychology in Commerce. 2nd Edition. Oldenbourg, Munich / Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-58379-3 .
  • Rudolf Seyffert : Economics of the trade . 5th edition. Ed. By Edmund Sundhoff, Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1972, ISBN 3-531-11087-X .
  • Christoph Stückelberger: Ethical World Trade - An Overview . Verlag Haupt, Bern / Stuttgart / Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-258-06362-1 .
  • Uwe Christian Täger: Transnationalization of Trading Systems . In: Otto Beisheim (ed.): Distribution im Aufbruch . Vahlen, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-8006-2375-7 , pp. 151-171.
  • Joachim Zentes: Handbook trade. Strategies - Perspectives - International Competition. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-409-14298-3 .

Web links

Commons : Commerce  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Commerce  - Sources and Full Texts
Wiktionary: Handel  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Trade  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. For more information, see Hans-Otto Schenk: History and Order Theory of Commercial Functions , Berlin 1970.
  2. Schenk 2007, p. 16.
  3. a b c d Jared M. Diamond : The Great Leap Forward. In: Linda S. Hjorth, Barbara A. Eichler u. a .: Technology and Society: Issues for the 21st Century and Beyond. 3. Edition. Prentice Hall 2008, pp. 15-23, here pp. ?? (Reprint from 1989; PDF file; 114 kB; 10 pages ).
  4. ^ Colin Renfrew: Trade and Culture Process in European Prehistory. In: Current Anthropology Volume 10, No. 2-3, April 1969, pp. 151-169, here pp. ??.
  5. ^ Marshall David Sahlins : Stone Age Economics. Transaction Publishers, 1972, pp. ?? ( Reading sample in the Google book search).
  6. Richard D. Horan, Erwin Bulte, Jason F. Shogren: How Trade Saved Humanity From Biological Exclusion. An Economic Theory of Neanderthal Extinction. In: Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. Volume 58, No. 1, 2005, pp. 1–29, here pp. ?? ( doi: 10.1016 / j.jebo.2004.03.009 ).
  7. ^ Martha T. Roth: Mesopotamian Legal Traditions and the Laws of Hammurabi. In: Chi.-Kent L. Rev. Volume 71, 1995-1996, p. 13 ( side view on
  8. Erwin J. Urch: The Law Code of Hammurabi. In: American Bar Association Journal. Volume 15, No. 7, 1929, pp. 437-441, here p. 437 ( side view on JSTOR ).
  9. Hans-Otto Schenk: Dogmengeschichte des Handels , in: hand dictionary of sales economy, Stuttgart 1974, Sp. 487-504
  10. More details from Hans-Otto Schenk: History and Order Theory of Commercial Functions , Berlin 1970, p. 26ff.
  11. Hans-Otto Schenk: The trade and the tradition of prejudices. In: Commerce in theory and practice. Festschrift for Dirk Möhlenbruch, ed. by Gesa Crockford, Falk Ritschel and Ulf-Marten Schmieder, Wiesbaden 2013, p. 23.
  12. cf. Kaplan, Robert D .: Center Stage for the Twenty-first Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean , in: Foreign Affairs , March / April 2010, Vol. 88, No. 2, p. 17.