Why is retail referred to as 零售 in Chinese? Why the combination of "zero" with "sales"? Certainly one expects to make (hopefully many) sales in retail so why is the character for "zero" used here? It just strikes me as such a negative and inauspicious word.
The character 零 means "small amount." In one context, "small amount" means "zero."
In the context of "sales," “零售,” it means "small sales" (Swedish: "Minuthandel" instead of "Grosshandel.") An appropriate translation for "small sales" is "retail."
In English one word often has one specific meaning. The word "Apple" can't mean much else. There are some examples of English word that have multiple (and seemingly unrelated) meanings:
In Chinese, this is more common. It is actually extremely common and it would not surprise me if I find 4-5 seemingly unrelated meanings to one word (I am native). Being bi-lingual, this is one of the most immediately noticed difference to me, and I think you will need to give yourself time to adapt to it. However being aware of such difference is definitely going to help you learn.
零售 here means "non wholesale". The reason is that 零 can means loose items, or surplus that cannot be grouped into one lot. It also carries the meaning of a small quantity of items. 批发 on the other hand, means wholesale.
批: This means one lot (of goods), or a batch. For example a cargo container full of products. For example "This shipment of fabrics" can be said as "这一批布料" where we use 批 to express the large volume in a wholesale situation.
发: To distribute (goods)
零 means "a part (fraction,fragment) of something" here. Some examples for this meaning:
Why is “零售” used?
Well, 售 means "to sell". We have another word opposite to "零售"; it's “批发 (wholesale)”. "批" means "a batch", "a package", and "发" means "to distribute, to sell".
The wholesalers (批发商) will buy a lot ("a lot" refers to 批 here)of goods from the manufacturers and sell them to different retailers(零售商). The retailers sell goods to end customers and generally a customer would only buy small amount (a small fraction, this is why we use 零 here) of the goods. You won't buy 10 soaps at a time, will you?