What is tertiary sector? Definition with Examples

We explain what the tertiary sector is, its main areas, and examples. In addition, what are the primary, secondary and quaternary sectors?

What is the tertiary sector?

The tertiary sector or service sector is called the link in the economic chain that, unlike the previous two, is not dedicated to the extraction of raw material or its transformation into consumer goods, but to the satisfaction of operational and commercial needs or of any other nature required by both end consumers and other companies and industries.

This sector is often responsible for providing specialized support in conducting its operations to both the primary and secondary sectors, especially in matters that do not directly involve the specific economic activity in which they are engaged.

For example, a pharmaceutical industry will require the shipment of its medicines to the people who consume them, and for that purpose it goes to a transport company instead of doing it by itself, thus receiving transport services. This is known as outsourcing.

The tertiary sector is by nature extremely diverse and specific, but in broad strokes, its three main areas of action are support, distribution, and commercialization. 

  • Support. Services in the resolution of problems in a specific area, in obtaining human, and technological resources, or in the supervision of the structure of the operation of the various product forms.
  • Distribution. The transport of both processed goods, raw materials, or people, the latter for labor, recreational or other purposes.
  • Marketing. It is the final step of the productive chain since it consists in bringing the final product to its consumers and making it available to the local consumer market. In some cases, the latter can be really broad, as is the case with the online sale of products anywhere in the world.

Examples of the tertiary sector

third sector
For offices, public spaces, or factories, cleaning services are needed.

Some examples of the services sector are:

  • Transportation companies. Both those in charge of mobilizing the raw material from the primary sector to the secondary sector, as well as those that directly offer travel services to consumers: airlines, sea lines, bus lines, etc.
  • Book distributors. Once out of the printing press, books should be distributed in stores and bookstores where they will be purchased by their readers. Such work is often carried out by a distribution company.
  • Department stores. The goods that a store offers to the public were not made by its staff but received for sale after having passed through its entire production chain. Thus, stores are responsible for providing merchandise sales services.
  • Cleaning companies. Whether for offices, public spaces, or factories, cleaning services companies provide an indispensable task: keep the spaces clean, and tidy, through a staff trained in these tasks and equipped with the necessary equipment.
  • Technical or repair services. Those assistance services repair artifacts, repair structural damage to the home, or even offer decoration changes, etc.
  • Catering services. For the production of events (parties, presentations, exhibitions, etc.), kitchen, beverage, and countertop services are usually required, for which there are companies available in the market.

Primary sector

primary sector
The primary sector is responsible for the extraction of raw materials.

The primary sector is the one that starts the production chain, by extracting or obtaining resources from nature: the raw material. Said raw material is obtained by intervening in the environment and often under strict ecological or operational rules that the State has the mission to supervise since the primary sector usually operates under the figure of the state tender: a legal permit to extract a good or a resource.

Secondary sector

secondary sector
The secondary sector is in charge of transforming the raw material.

The secondary sector receives the raw material of the primary sector and is responsible for subjecting it to specialized transformation procedures, thus obtaining ready-made products ready for consumption, or semi-finished products that will in turn go to another industry in the sector to be part of other products elaborated It is the industrial sector par excellence, responsible for manufacturing the things we consume.

Quaternary Sector

quaternary sector
The quaternary sector requires highly trained staff.

The quaternary sector is born from a specialization of the tertiary since this is the knowledge sector. Its offer is based on services that are impossible to mechanize and that require highly trained personnel with special knowledge, such as science, research, development, financial planning, etc.

These services are demanded by any company in the previous sectors as a method of maximizing or improving its operation, either by incorporating new technologies, correcting its operating chain, or allowing others to make their personnel selection or administration of their finances.

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