One of the important problems of marketing is the distribution of goods & services to the right place, person & the right time. Manufacturers often find it difficult to decide about the effective distribution system. The channel of distributions refers to the group of intermediaries, which perform the distribution functions. A channel of distribution is an organised net-work or a system of agencies and institutions which, in combination, perform all the activities required to link producers with users and users with producers to accomplish the marketing task.
According to Philip Kotler, “The distribution is the set of all firms & individuals that assist in the transferring the little of goods & services as they move from producers to customers.”
According to Richard Buskirk, “Channel of distribution is that system of financial organization by which a producer sends his products to the hands of consumers.”
According to Cundiff and Still, “Channels of distribution are those marketing nets through which the producer flow the products toward the market.”
Functions (Role) of the Channels of Distribution
(1) Extending Suggestions Regarding Price-Determination: The middlemen are in the direct contact of the consumers. Therefore, they possess the knowledge that on what price may the consumer accepts the product. Thus, the channel of distribution extends necessary advice to the producers in the price-determination.
(2) Regularizing the Decisions: The channel of distribution regularizes the decisions and the transactions, resulting in the lowering of the costs. If the products are sold off to some such store which has many branches in the city, the producer then doesn't need going to various branches frequently or repeatedly. The main cause of the same is that if the product seems suitable for the store, it will itself send the purchase order to the manufacturer and in this way, with only the limited efforts, it will become possible to sell the products in bulk quantities.
(3) Managing the Finance: We find that the agents generally send some advance money along with the order. Very often the product is supplied to the agents through the bank so that the company gets the documents discounted from the bank. Thus the finance is arranged. Thus it-is also the function of the agents to arrange the finance.
(4) Performing the Promotion Activities: By the middlemen, particularly by the retailers, the advertisements, individual sales, and the sales promotion activities are performed. Very often the middlemen themselves plan and implement the promotion activities and sometimes the manufacturers to extend their help in such work. Really, the result or the outcome of the sales, by the producer, very much depends upon the promotion activities undertaken by the middlemen.
(5) Serving the Consumers: Due to the middlemen only, the consumers get their required products. Only in accordance with the needs of the consumers, the retailers arrange to purchase the products from the wholesellers and the manufacturers.
(6) Minimizing the Total Transactions: If there were no middlemen, the producer would have been required to sell the product directly to the consumers which would have result into more of expenditure and trouble. Really speaking, due to the existence of the middlemen only, the number of total transactions is reduced which also reduces the costs of distribution.
Factors Affecting the Selection of the Channel of Distribution
Every producer, in order to pass on the product to the consumer, is required to select a channel for distribution. The selection of the suitable channel of distribution is one of the important factors of the distribution decisions. The following factors affect the selection of the channel of distribution:
A. Factors Pertaining to the Product: Keeping in view the nature, qualities and peculiarities of the product, could only the channel for distribution be properly made. The following factors concerning the product, affect the selection of the channel of distribution:
(1) Price of the Product: The products of a lower price have a long chain of distributors. As against it, the products having higher price have a smaller chain. Very often, the producer himself has to sell the products to the consumers directly.
(2) Perishability: The products which are of a perishable nature need lesser number of the intermediaries or agents for their sale. Under this very rule, most of the eatables (food items), and the bakery items are distributed only by the retail sellers.
(3) Size and Weight: The size and weight of the products too affect the selection of the middlemen. Generally, heavy industrial goods are distributed by the producers themselves to the industrial consumers.
(4) Technical Nature: Some products are of the nature that prior to their selling, the consumer is required to be given proper instructions with regard to its consumption. In such a case less of the middlemen arc) required to be used.
(5) Goods Made to Order: The products that are manufactured as per the orders of the customers could be sold directly and the standardized items could be sold off only by the middlemen.
(6) After-Sales Service: The products regarding which the after-sales service is to be provided could be sold off either personally or through the authorized agents.
B. Factors pertaining to the Consumer or Market: The following are the main elements concerned with the consumer or the market:
(1) Number of Customers: If the number of customers is large, definitely the services of the middlemen will have to be sought for. As against it, the products whose customers are less in number are distributed by the manufacturer himself.
(2) Expansion of the Consumers: The span over which are the customers of any commodity spread over, also affects the selection of the channel of distribution. When the consumers are spread through a small or limited sphere, the product is distributed by the producer himself or his agent. As against it, the goods whose distributors are spread throughout the whole country, for such distributors, services of wholeseller and the retailer are sought.
(3) Size of the Order: When bulk supply orders are received from the consumers, the producer himself takes up the responsibility for the supply of these goods. If the orders are received piece-meal or in smaller quantities, for it the services of the wholeseller could be sought. In this way, the size of the order also influences the selection of the channel of the distribution.
(4) Objective of Purchase: If the product is being purchased for the industrial use; its direct sale is proper or justified. As against it, if the products are being purchased for the general consumption, the products reach the consumers after passing innumerable hands.
(5) Need of the Credit Facilities: If, for the sale of any product, it becomes necessary to grant credit to any customer, it shall be helpful for the producer that for its distribution, the services of the wholeseller and retailer businessmen be sought. In this way, the need of the credit facilities too influences the selection of the channel of distribution.
C. Factors Pertaining to the Middlemen: The following are the main factors concerned with the middlemen:
(1) Services Provided by Middlemen: The selection of the middlemen is made keeping in view their services. If some product is quite new and there is the need of its publicity and promotion of sales, then instead of adopting the agency system, the work must be entrusted to the representatives.
(2) Scope or Possibilities of Quantity of Sales: The same channel should be selected by means of which there is the possibility of more sales.
(3) Attitude of Agents towards the Producers' Policies: The producers generally prefer to select such middlemen who go by their policies. Very often when the distribution and supply policies of the producers being disliked by the middlemen, the selection of middlemen becomes quite limited.
(4) Cost of Channel of Distribution: While selecting the channel of distribution, the cost of distribution and the services provided by the middlemen or agents too must be kept into consideration. The producers generally select the most economical channel.
D. Factors Pertaining to the Producer Or Company: The following factors, concerning the producer, affect the selection of the channel of distribution:
(1) Level of Production: The manufacturers who are financially sound and are of a larger category, are able to appoint the sales representatives in a larger number and thug could distribute the commodities (products) in larger quantities. As against it, for the smaller manufacturers, it becomes necessary to procure the services of the wholesellers and the retail traders.
(2) Financial Resources of the Company: From the financial point of view, the stronger company needs less middlemen.
(3) Managerial Competence and Experience: If some producer lacks in the necessary managerial experience or proficiency, he will depend more upon the middlemen. The new manufacturers in the beginning remain more dependent upon the middlemen.
E. Other Factors
(1) Distribution Channel of Competitors: While determining the channel of distribution, the channels of distribution of the competitors too must be borne in mind.
(2) Social Viewpoint: What is the attitude of society towards the distribution, this fact too must be kept into consideration while selecting the middlemen.
(3) Freedom of Altering: While selecting the agents, this fact too must be kept into mind that in case of need, there must be the liberty of changing or replacing the agents (middlemen).
Types of Channels
A. Zero-level channel (producer to consumer): It is also called as direct marketing or direct selling. This channel consists of the producer who directly sells his products to the ultimate consumers. This is the shortest, simplest, & cheapest form of distribution. Producers are benefited by increased profit, whereas consumers are benefited by reduced price. This is possible because it eliminates the middleman completely. With the development of sophisticated & efficient retailing like supermarkets, chain-stores, automatic selling machine is financially sound follow this channel of distribution. For products like jewelry & industrial goods like machinery, this is the best channel.