With the growth of specialization, particularly industrial specialization, and with improvements in methods of transportation and communication, channels of distribution have become very complex. Thus, corn grown in Illinois may be processed into corn chips in West Texas, which are then distributed throughout the United States. Or, turkeys grown in Virginia are sent to New York so that they can be shipped to supermarkets in Virginia. Channels don't always make sense. The channel mechanism also operates for service products. In the case of medical care, the channel mechanism may consist of a local physician, specialists, hospitals, ambulances, laboratories, insurance companies, physical therapists, home care professionals, and so forth. All of these individuals are interdependent, and could not operate successfully without the cooperation and capabilities of all the others.
Based on this relationship, a marketing channel can be defined as "sets of interdependent organizations involved in the process of making a product or service available for use or consumption, as well as providing a payment mechanism for the provider." This definition implies several important characteristics of the channel.
First, the channel consists of institutions, some under the control of the producer and some outside the producer's control. Yet all must be recognized, selected, and integrated into an efficient channel arrangement.
Second, the channel management process is continuous and requires constant monitoring and reappraisal. The channel operates 24 hours a day and exists in an environment where change is the norm.
Finally, channels should have certain distribution objectives guiding their activities. The structure and management of the marketing channel is thus in part a function of a firm's distribution objective. It is also a part of the marketing objectives, especially the need to make an acceptable profit. Channels usually represent the largest costs in marketing a product.