The number of intermediary levels between a manufacturer and the final market in a distribution channel varies from industry to industry. In some cases, none are used (i.e. the distribution function is vertically integrated), while several middleman levels are used in other cases (e.g. the use of a wholesaler, a jobber, and a retailer in the distribution of meat). In this paper we examine the effect of competition on the profit‐maximizing length of the distribution channel. We find that the optimal number of middleman levels increases with the substitutability of products in the market, but that there are institutional limits on the maximum number of levels in a channel. The analysis also suggests that differences in the objectives of channel members (e.g. the maximization of total channel profit versus the maximization of each member's individual profit) affect optimal channel length: a goal of total channel profit maximization produces a channel at least as long as one of individual (non‐co‐operative) member profit maximization. The work thus complements existing research focusing on intra‐channel (e.g. cost‐based) explanations of channel length, using a framework similar to those investigating competitive incentives for vertical integration in distribution.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Business and International Management
- Strategy and Management
- Management Science and Operations Research
- Management of Technology and Innovation