This paragraph from Wikipedia makes me cringe, because of the first sentence, using the phrase "in retail".

Planograms are mostly used in retail. A planogram defines which product is placed, in which area of a shelving unit and with which quantity. The rules and theories for the creation of a planogram are set under the terms of merchandising. Manufacturers often send planograms to stores ahead of new products. This is useful when a retailer wants multiple store displays to have the same look and feel. Often, a consumer-packaged goods manufacturer will release a new suggested planogram with their new product to show how the product relates to existing products.

I work for a retail company, and realize that this is a conventional way of speaking within the industry. But it seems to me to be on par with industry jargon, and out of place in intelligent and thoughtfully edited writing.

Is my opinion widely held, or is this sort of thing considered acceptable? (For instance, would the New York Times ever use language like this?)

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    I do not work for a retail company, I never realized this was a conventional way of speaking within the industry, but what I do realize is that this is the conventional way of speaking everywhere else. Every dictionary I have checked has retail as a noun, none of them marks it as jargon, and a quick search of nytimes.com reveals that while they do prefer using retail as an adjective, they also do happily use it as a noun, and have been for 23 years at least. – RegDwigнt May 28 '13 at 16:22
  • @RegDwighт: your comment is the best answer so far, but given that headlines are where newspapers play with language and all of their normal stylistic rules are up for grabs, I'm not sure that example is entirely convincing. Googling site:nytimes.com "in retail" gives me a page of examples where "retail" is always an adjective, except where they quote someone else. – iconoclast May 29 '13 at 0:26
  • This usage strikes me as something close to metonymy. – Bradd Szonye May 29 '13 at 0:56

I would liken the usage of retail as a noun to other semantic conversions of adjectives to nouns, where the adjective has become so salient in the language that its very mention is enough to signal to class of nouns it normally modifies.

For example:

I prefer reds to whites.

This phrase is completely comprehensible in the context of two people talking about wine, and even shows that the speaker has membership status in the class of people who talk wine. Even outside of very specific contexts, this type of semantic broadening of the adjective class could be a result of our propensity in English to avoid noun repetition:

"Would you like a glass of wine?" "Sure. Do you have red [wine] or white [wine]?"

This is especially true in cases where the adjective belongs to a more limited class, as is the case with retail, which will only collocate with a limited number of nouns. Highly frequent usage of the terms retail industry, retail company, and retail sector, would have led to the shortened, lexicalized form in retail.

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Yes, retail is often used in this way. It is a mass noun (aka uncountable noun) - it would be incorrect to talk of a retail or some retails, but retail as a synonym for the retail sector is fine.

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  • Indeed, Chambers, when defining retail, gives this noun sense as the first definition: "the sale directly to the consumer, or in small quantities (cf wholesale)" – Rosie F Jan 10 at 16:35

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