Channel Integration and Systems

Distribution channels don’t stand still. We’ll look at the recent growth of vertical, horizontal, and multichannel marketing systems. After considering some e-commerce and m-commerce issues, we next examine how these systems cooperate, conflict, and compete.


A conventional marketing channel consists of an independent producer, wholesaler(s), and retailer(s). Each is a separate business seeking to maximize its own profits, even if this goal reduces profit for the system as a whole. No channel member has complete or substantial control over other members.

A vertical marketing system (VMS), by contrast, includes the producer, wholesaler(s), and retailer(s) acting as a unified system. One channel member, the channel captain, sometimes called a channel steward, owns or fran­chises the others or has so much power that they all cooperate. Stewards accomplish channel coordination without issuing commands or directives by persuading channel partners to act in the best interest of all.59

A channel steward might be the maker of the product or service (Procter & Gamble or American Airlines), the maker of a key component (microchip maker Intel), the supplier or assembler (Dell or Arrow Electronics), or the distributor (W.W. Grainger) or retailer (Walmart). Within a company, stewardship might rest with the CEO, a top manager, or a team of senior managers.

Channel stewardship has two important outcomes. First, it expands value for the steward’s customers, en­larging the market or increasing existing customers’ purchases through the channel. Second, it creates a more tightly woven and yet adaptable channel in which valuable members are rewarded and the less valuable are weeded out.

VMSs arose from strong channel members’ attempts to control channel behavior and eliminate conflict over independent members pursuing their own objectives. These systems achieve economies through size, bargaining power, and elimination of duplicated services. Business buyers of complex products and systems value the exten­sive exchange of information they can offer.60 VMSs have become the dominant mode of distribution in the U.S. consumer marketplace, serving 70 percent to 80 percent of the market. There are three types: corporate, adminis­tered, and contractual.

CORPORATE VMS A corporate VMS combines successive stages of production and distribution under single ownership. For years, Sears obtained more than half the goods it sells from companies it partly or wholly owned. Sherwin-Williams makes paint but also owns and operates 3,500 retail outlets.

ADMINISTERED VMS An administered VMS coordinates successive stages of production and distribution through the size and power of one of the members. Manufacturers of dominant brands can secure strong trade cooperation and support from resellers. Thus, Frito-Lay, Procter & Gamble, and Campbell Soup command high levels of cooperation from their resellers in the matter of displays, shelf space, promotions, and price policies. The most advanced supply-distributor arrangement for administered VMSs relies on distribution programming, which builds a planned, professionally managed, vertical marketing system that meets the needs of both manufacturer and distributors.

CONTRACTUALVMS A contractual VMS consists of independent firms at different levels of production and distribution integrating their programs on a contractual basis to obtain more economies or sales impact than they could achieve alone.61 Sometimes thought of as “value-adding partnerships” (VAPs), contractual VMSs come in three types:

  1. Wholesaler-sponsored voluntary chains—Wholesalers organize voluntary chains of independent retail­ers to help standardize their selling practices and achieve buying economies in competing with large chain organizations.
  2. Retailer cooperatives—Retailers take the initiative and organize a new business entity to carry on wholesal­ing and possibly some production. Members concentrate their purchases through the retailer co-op and plan their advertising jointly, sharing in profits in proportion to their purchases. Nonmember retailers can also buy through the co-op but do not share in the profits.
  3. Franchise organizations—A channel member called a franchisor might link several successive stages in the production-distribution process. Franchising has been the fastest-growing retailing development in recent years.

Although the basic idea is an old one, some forms of franchising are quite new. The traditional system is the manufacturer-sponsored retailer franchise. Ford licenses independent businesspeople to sell its cars who agree to meet specified conditions of sales and services. Another system is the manufacturer-sponsored wholesaler franchise. Coca-Cola licenses bottlers (wholesalers) in various markets that buy its syrup concentrate and then carbonate, bottle, and sell it to retailers in local markets. A newer system is the service-firm-sponsored retailer franchise, organized by a service firm to bring its service efficiently to consumers. We find examples in auto rental (Hertz and Avis), fast food (McDonald’s and Burger King), and the motel business (Howard Johnson and Ramada Inn). In a dual distribution system, firms use both vertical integration (the franchisor actually owns and runs the units) and market governance (the franchisor licenses the units to other franchisees).62

THE NEW COMPETITION IN RETAILING Many independent retailers that have not joined VMSs have developed specialty stores serving special market segments. The result is a polarization in retailing between large vertical marketing organizations and independent specialty stores, which creates a problem for manufacturers. They are strongly tied to independent intermediaries but must eventually realign themselves with the high-growth vertical marketing systems on less attractive terms. Furthermore, vertical marketing systems constantly threaten to bypass large manufacturers and set up their own manufacturing. The new competition in retailing is no longer between independent business units but between whole systems of centrally programmed networks (corporate, administered, and contractual), competing against one another to achieve the best cost economies and customer response.


Another channel development is the horizontal marketing system, in which two or more unrelated companies put together resources or programs to exploit an emerging marketing opportunity. Each company lacks the capital, know-how, production, or marketing resources to venture alone, or it is afraid of the risk. The companies might work together on a temporary or permanent basis or create a joint venture company.

For example, many supermarket chains have arrangements with local banks to offer in-store banking. Citizens Bank has more than 500 branches in supermarkets, making up roughly one-third of its branch network. Citizens’s staff members in these locations are more sales oriented, younger, and more likely to have some retail sales back­ground than staff in the traditional brick-and-mortar branches.63

Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.

1 thoughts on “Channel Integration and Systems

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