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The tertiary sector of the economy (also known as the service sector or the service industry) is one of the three economic sectors, the others being the secondary sector (approximately the same as manufacturing) and the primary sector (agriculture, fishing, and extraction such as mining).




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The service sector consists of the "soft" parts of the economy, i.e. activities where people offer their knowledge and time to improve productivity, performance, potential, and sustainability. The basic characteristic of this sector is the production of services instead of end products. Services (also known as "intangible goods") include attention, advice, experience, and discussion. The production of information is generally also regarded as a service, but some economists now attribute it to a fourth sector, the quaternary sector.

The tertiary sector of industry involves the provision of services to other businesses as well as final consumers. Services may involve the transport, distribution and sale of goods from producer to a consumer, as may happen in wholesaling and retailing, or may involve the provision of a service, such as in pest control or entertainment. The goods may be transformed in the process of providing the service, as happens in the restaurant industry. However, the focus is on people interacting with people and serving the customer rather than transforming physical goods.

For the last 30 years, there has been a substantial shift from the primary and secondary sectors to the tertiary sector in industrialized countries. This shift is called tertiarization. The tertiary sector is now the largest sector of the economy in the Western world, and is also the fastest-growing sector.

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