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What Are Retail Hardlines and Softlines?

Updated April 17, 2017

In different business sectors a common language is important, especially in a globalised economy. Many industries have a specific jargon to refer to simple every day tasks and items and the retail industry is no different. Retail terminology is a vast and sometimes complicated set of words used in the industry.

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Retail Industry

Retail is a muti-billion dollar industry that is very important to the American economy. Retail success is an important part of the American economy and the industry employs hundreds of thousands of people nationwide. The retail industry has very specific terminology to describe aspects of the business that include complex financial operations but also simple concepts. Hardlines and softlines are terms that refer to different categories of goods.


In retail, hardlines are used to decribe goods that customers do not wear and are literally hard. Hardlines include electronics, cosmetics, home furnishings and decor, toys, food, automotive and sporting goods. Hardlines usually have their own section in department stores and stores with a varied merchandise mix. The division between hardlines is seen on the retail floor and also decribes the divisions within a retail comany. Merchandise buyers and planners are separated into working groups that focus either on hardlines and softlines.


Softline goods are the more visible and recognised merchandise that consumers see in magazines and on television. Softlines refer to merchandise included in ready-to-wear collections like clothing, accessories and footwear. Accessories can be hats, jewellery and belts. Softline goods are also textile-based merchandise in home furnishings like towels, napkins, tablecloths and linens.

Retail Outlets

Retail outlets can sell both hardline and softline goods like the many big-box retailers including Target and Walmart. Department stores are the classic example of retailers that sell both types of merchandise. Smaller retail outlets usually specialise in one merchandise category and softline retailers make up the majority of smaller stores. Mostly hardline retailers like Best Buy and Toys R Us sometimes carry softline goods to diversify their merchanise mix.

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