A distribution channel is a chain of businesses or intermediaries through which a good or service passes until it reaches the final buyer or the end consumer. Distribution channels can include wholesalers, retailers, distributors, and even the Internet.
A distribution channel (also called a marketing channel) is the path or route decided by the company to deliver its good or service to the customers. The route can be as short as a direct interaction between the company and the customer or can include several interconnected intermediaries like wholesalers, distributors, retailers, etc.
Hence, a distribution channel can also be referred to as a set of interdependent intermediaries that help make a product available to the end customer.
Distribution channels are part of the downstream process, answering the question “How do we get our product to the consumer?” This is in contrast to the upstream process, also known as the supply chain, which answers the question “Who are our suppliers?”
Role of Distribution Channels
In order to understand the importance of distribution channels, you need to understand that it doesn’t just bridge the gap between the producer of a product and its user.
(i) Distribution channels provide time, place, and ownership utility
They make the product available when, where, and in which quantities the customer wants. But other than these transactional functions, marketing channels are also responsible to carry out the following functions:
(ii) Logistics and Physical Distribution
Marketing channels are responsible for assembly, storage, sorting, and transportation of goods from manufacturers to customers.
Channels of distribution even provide pre-sale and post-purchase services like financing, maintenance, information dissemination and channel coordination.
(iv) Creating Efficiencies
This is done in two ways: bulk breaking and creating assortments. Wholesalers and retailers purchase large quantities of goods from manufacturers but break the bulk by selling few at a time to many other channels or customers. They also offer different types of products at a single place which is a huge benefit to customers as they don’t have to visit different retailers for different products.
(v) Sharing Risks
Since most of the channels buy the products beforehand, they also share the risk with the manufacturers and do everything possible to sell it.
Distribution channels are also called marketing channels because they are among the core touch points where many marketing strategies are executed. They are in direct contact with the end customers and help the manufacturers in propagating the brand message and product benefits and other benefits to the customers.
Factors Determining the Choice of Distribution Channels
Selection of the perfect marketing channel is tough. It is among those few strategic decisions which either make or break your company.
Even though direct selling eliminates the intermediary expenses and gives more control in the hands of the manufacturer, it adds up to the internal workload and raises the fulfilment costs. Hence these four factors should be considered before deciding whether to opt for the direct or indirect distribution channel.
Types of Distribution Channels
While a distribution channel may seem endless at times, there are three main types of channels, all of which include the combination of a producer, wholesaler, retailer, and end consumer.
- The first channel is the longest because it includes all four: producer, wholesaler, retailer, and consumer. The wine and adult beverage industry is a perfect example of this long distribution channel. In this industry thanks to laws born out of prohibition a winery cannot sell directly to a retailer. It operates in the three-tier system, meaning the law requires the winery to first sell its product to a wholesaler who then sells to a retailer. The retailer then sells the product to the end consumer.
- The second channel cuts out the wholesaler where the producer sells directly to a retailer who sells the product to the end consumer. This means the second channel contains only one intermediary. Dell, for example, is large enough to sell its products directly to reputable retailers such as Best Buy.
- The third and final channel is a direct-to-consumer model where the producer sells its product directly to the end consumer. Amazon, which uses its own platform to sell Kindles to its customers, is an example of a direct model. This is the shortest distribution channel possible, cutting out both the wholesaler and the retailer.
Choosing the Right Distribution Channel
Not all distribution channels work for all products, so it’s important for companies to choose the right one. The channel should align with the firm’s overall mission and strategic vision including its sales goals.
The method of distribution should add value to the consumer. Do consumers want to speak to a salesperson? Will they want to handle the product before they make a purchase? Or do they want to purchase it online with no hassles? Answering these questions can help companies determine which channel they choose.
Secondly, the company should consider how quickly it wants its product(s) to reach the buyer. Certain products are best served by a direct distribution channel such as meat or produce, while others may benefit from an indirect channel.
If a company chooses multiple distribution channels, such as selling products online and through a retailer, the channels should not conflict with one another. Companies should strategize so one channel doesn’t overpower the other.
- A distribution channel represents a chain of businesses or intermediaries through which the final buyer purchases a good or service.
- Distribution channels include wholesalers, retailers, distributors, and the Internet.
- A distribution channel, also known as placement, is part of a company’s marketing strategy, which includes product, promotion, and price.
- In a direct distribution channel, the manufacturer sells directly to the consumer. Indirect channels involve multiple intermediaries before the product ends up in the hands of the consumer.