What are the differences between a Kaufhaus and a Warenhaus?

Do these terms describe exactly the same thing?
If not, what are all of the subtle differences?


  • Is a Kaufhaus a kind of Warenhaus?
  • Is a Warenhaus a kind of Kaufhaus?
  • If none of the above is true, what is the least-general term (so, less general than "Laden" for instance) that encompasses both?


The German Wikipedia has an article for each, but I haven't been able to grasp the difference:

Wiktionary also has a different definition for each:

  • Kaufhaus: ein Geschäft, wo sich der Verkäufer und die Käufer treffen, um Ware gegen Geld auszutauschen
  • Warenhaus: ein Geschäftshaus, Laden, das Güter vieler verschiedener Branchen zum Verkauf anbietet

Dwds too has a different definition for each:

  • Kaufhaus: großes, oft mehrstöckiges Geschäft des Einzelhandels für Waren vieler Arten
  • Warenhaus: Haus, in dem Waren vieler Branchen im Einzelhandel verkauft werden

Wirtschaftslexikon has different definitions, and a graph with arrows whose meaning is unclear to me:

  • Kaufhaus: Betriebsform des Einzelhandels (Betriebsform des Handels); angeboten wird ein sehr tief gegliedertes, branchenhomogenes Sortiment (außer Lebensmitteln) in ausgedehnten Verkaufsräumen. Es gibt sowohl Fachabteilungen mit Beratung als auch Abteilungen mit weit gehender Selbstbedienung. Standort bevorzugt in innerstädtischen Hauptlagen. Verbreitet sind Kaufhäuser für Textilien, Bekleidung, Möbel, Kinderspielzeug.
  • Warenhaus: Betriebsform des Handels (Einzelhandel) in zentraler Lage mit branchenübergreifendem, breiten Sortiment einschließlich Lebensmitteln

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  • 1
    In which context do you need the distinction? Is it for using the terms in colloquial language? Or in business managemt? Or for the historical development of using these terms?
    – IQV
    Feb 27, 2017 at 11:39
  • @IQV: I am interested in exploring both aspects. Should I split my question into a question in the business field, and a question for colloquial language? History is not required. Feb 27, 2017 at 12:09
  • I updated my answer and tried to work out both aspects.
    – IQV
    Feb 27, 2017 at 13:35
  • Be aware that both terms, and the businesses they describe, are near outmoded, certainly old-school, and will mean different things to different age groups. Anyone under the age of 40 using "Warenhaus" in a colloquial conversation will probably be assumed to use the term for stylistic reasons. The "SB-Warenhaus" (different business concept again anyway!) is also a very formal term, it would be a Supermarkt to an average German. Feb 27, 2017 at 15:49
  • It's the same difference as between a store and a warehouse in English Feb 27, 2017 at 16:09

4 Answers 4


For most Germans there would be no difference in meaning. You would use whichever term is used by the place itself. Also there might be some regional preferences. As for me, I would tend to rather use "Kaufhaus" than "Warenhaus".

And in most situations you would rather refer to it by the company name: "Ich gehe zu Karstadt."

However in economics/management these terms have a distinct meaning.

Warenhaus has a wider range of products including food compared to a Kaufhaus. So technically there is a difference.

Apparently this distinction is not followed strictly in reality (as you can see in case of the KaDeWe which does sell food).

  • Thanks for uncovering several aspects of the question! So, if you were teletransported to such a store in an unknown location, with all brand names hidden, without being able to ask the locals, your only way to know what the locals are calling it would be to see whether they have food or not, and even then you would have a chance to get it wrong. Did I understand correctly? Thanks :-) Feb 27, 2017 at 10:57
  • 1
    @NicolasRaoul What I mean is that outside of people in economics/management the terms are used interchangeably whether they have food or not. If I was teletransported to such a place I would use "Kaufhaus" (for reasons unknown to me) and I would not even check whether they have food or not, because I would not know it made a difference. Feb 27, 2017 at 11:46
  • I see! I would be very interested in knowing how people in the economics/management field describe the difference. This would be a good complement to the explanation above of how non-specialists describe the difference. Feb 27, 2017 at 12:03
  • Coming from the Northwest, I've never heard the term "Warenhaus" be used. Feb 28, 2017 at 8:10

In colloquial usage there is no difference between these two terms. People usally will use it as synomyms.

Only in technical terms esp. in business management there are differences. The main difference - as pointed out in the Wikipedia-article "Warenhaus" - is that a Warenhaus offers foods and a "Kaufhaus" not.
Furthermore a shop is defined to be a "Kaufhaus" if it has at minimum 1.000 m2 selling area. On the other hand a "Warenhaus" needs at minimum 3.000 m2 selling area.
Then a "Kaufhaus" offers goods of one (or only few) groups of goods, e.g. textiles or electronics. A "Warenhaus" offers goods of any kind.
So, in technical terms a "Warenhaus" also is a "Kaufhaus" as it offers goods, but offers more than a "Kaufhaus".

But in real life you can't rely on these distinctions. For example the famous "KaDeWe" (Kaufhaus des Westens) in Berlin is technically a Warenhaus as it has a big department with foods. So beside the theory in business management you will find a "Kaufhaus" which offers foods as you can find a "Warenhaus" without it.

  • 1
    To make things clearer: Do ALL Warenhaus offer food? Also, do Kaufhaus NEVER offer food? Response to these two questions will help me understand which one is a subset of the other, or whether none is a subset of the other. Thanks a lot :-) Feb 27, 2017 at 10:44

The terms mean pretty much the same. The difference (selling food) mentioned in the other answers is taken from a professional reference. Since I never encountered it before, I assume it't not exactly well-established elsewhere. So I would summarize the first sentence of CarstenS link: Colloquially used synonymously.

The next time you could try a dictionary instead of a encyclopedia, like Wiktionary or Dwds. Less information means less work to extract the essence.


Kaufhaus: Retail. Shopping center. Warenhaus: Warehouse. Wholesale. Wholesale outlet, but usually more for trade among merchants rather than to individuals.


I have never seen "Warenhaus" used to indicate mass-retail shopping outlets. dict.leo.org is your friend.

If you wish to indicate retail then Kaufhaus. Lookslike Warenhaus works both for wholesale and retail. Grosshandel is exclusively wholesale.


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