Marketing Mix: Types of Channels of Distribution and Factors Affecting the Choice of Distribution Channel

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Types of Channels of Distribution

Generally, we do not buy goods directly from the producers. The producers/manufacturers usually use services of one or more middlemen to supply their goods to the consumers. But sometimes, they do have direct contact with the customers with no middlemen in between them. This is true more for industrial goods where the customers are highly knowledgeable, and their individual purchases are large. The various channels used for distribution of consumer goods can be described as follows:

Zero Stage Channel of Distribution

Zero stage distribution channel exists where there is direct sale of goods by the producer to the consumer. This direct contact with the consumer can be made through door-to door salesmen, own retail outlets or even through direct mail. Also, in case of perishable products and certain technical household products, door-to-door sale is an easier way of convincing consumer to make a purchase. Eureka Forbes, for example, sells its water purifiers directly through their own sales staff.

One Stage Channel of Distribution

In this case, there is one middleman i.e., the retailer. The manufacturers sell their goods to retailers who in turn sell it to the consumers. This type of distribution channel is preferred by manufacturers of consumer durables like refrigerator, air conditioner, washing machine, etc. where individual purchase involves large amount. It is also used for distribution through large scale retailers such as departmental stores (Big Bazaar, Sponsors) and supermarkets.

Two Stage Channels of Distribution

This is the most commonly used channel of distribution for the sale of consumer goods. In this case, there are two middlemen used, namely, wholesaler and retailer. This is applicable to products where markets are spread over a large area, value of individual purchase is small, and the frequency of purchase is high.

Three Stage Channels of Distribution

When the number of wholesalers used is large and they are scattered throughout the country, the manufacturers often use the services of mercantile agents who act as a link between the producer and the wholesaler. They are also known as distributors.

Image of Types of Channels of Distribution

Image of Types of Channels of Distribution

Image of Types of Channels of Distribution

Factors Affecting the Choice of Distribution Channel

Choice of an appropriate distribution channel is very important as the pricing as well as promotion strategy are dependent upon the distribution channel selected. Not only that, the route which the product follows in its journey from the manufacturer to the consumer also involves certain costs. This in turn, affects not only the price of the product but also the profits. Choice of inappropriate channels of distribution may result in lesser profits for the manufacturer and higher price from the consumer. Hence, the manufacturer has to be careful while finalising the channel of distribution to be used. He should pay attention to the following factors while making his choice.

Nature of Market

There are many aspects of market which determine the choice of channel of distribution. Say for example, where the number of buyers is limited, they are concentrated at few locations and their individual purchases are large as is the case with industrial buyers, direct sale may be the most preferred choice. But in case where number of buyers is large with small individual purchase and they are scattered, then need may arise for use of middlemen.

Nature of Product

Nature of the product considerably affects the choice of channel of distribution. In case the product is of technical nature involving a good amount of pre-sale and after sale services, the sale is generally done through retailers without involving the wholesalers. But in most of the consumer goods having small value, bought frequently in small quantities, a long channel involving agents, wholesalers and retailers is used as the goods need to be stored at convenient locations. Items like toiletries, groceries, etc. fall in this category. As against this in case of items like industrial machinery, having large value and involving specialised technical service and long negotiation period, direct sale is preferred.

Nature of the Company

A firm having enough financial resources can afford to its own a distribution force and retail outlet, both. But most business firms prefer not to create their own distribution channel and concentrate on manufacturing. The firms who wish to control the distribution network prefer a shorter channel.

Middlemen Consideration

If right kind of middlemen having the necessary experience, contacts, financial strength and integrity are available, their use is preferred as they can ensure success of newly introduced products. Cost factors also have to be kept in view as all middlemen add their own margin of profit to the price of the products. But from experience it is learnt that where the volume of sales is adequate, the use of middlemen is often found economical and less cumbersome as against direct sale.


Promotion refers to the process of informing and persuading the consumers to buy certain product. By using this process, the marketeers convey persuasive message and information to its potential customers. The main objective of promotion is to seek buyers’ attention towards the product with a view to:

  • Arouse his interest in the product.

  • Inform him about its availability; and

  • Inform him as to how is it different from others.

It is thus a persuasive communication and also serves as a reminder. A firm uses different tools for its promotional activities which are as follows:

  • Advertising

  • Publicity

  • Personal selling

  • Sales promotion

These are also termed as four elements of a promotion mix. Let us have a brief idea about these promotion tools.


Advertising is the most commonly used tool for informing the present and prospective consumers about the product, its quality, features, availability, etc. It is a paid form of non-personal communication through different media about a product, idea, a service or an organisation by an identified sponsor. It can be done through print media like newspaper, magazines, billboards, electronic media like radio, television, etc. It is a very flexible and comparatively low-cost tool of promotion.


This is a non-paid process of generating wide range of communication to contribute a favourable attitude towards the product and the organisation. You may have seen articles in newspapers about an organisation, its products and policies. The other tools of publicity are press conference, publication and news in the electronic media etc. It is published or broadcasted without charging any money from the firm. Marketeers often spend a lot of time and effort in getting news items placed in the media for creation of a favourable image of the company and its products.

Personal Selling

You must have come across representatives of different companies knocking at your door and persuading you to buy their product. It is a direct presentation of the product to the consumers or prospective buyers. It refers to the use of salespersons to persuade the buyers to act favourably and buy the product. It is most effective promotional tool in case of industrial goods.

Sales Promotion

This refers to short-term and temporary incentives to purchase or induce trials of new goods. The tool includes contests, games, gifts, trade shows, discounts, etc. Sales promotional activities are often carried out at retail levels.

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