There are basically four types of marketing channels:
- Direct selling;
- Selling through intermediaries;
- Dual distribution; and
- Reverse channels.
Essentially, a channel might be a retail store, a web site, a mail order catalogue, or direct personal communications by a letter, email or text message. Here's a bit of information about each one.
Direct selling is the marketing and selling of products directly to consumers away from a fixed retail location. Peddling is the oldest form of direct selling.
Modern direct selling includes sales made through the party plan, one-on-one demonstrations, personal contact arrangements as well as internet sales.
A textbook definition is: "The direct personal presentation, demonstration, and sale of products and services to consumers, usually in their homes or at their jobs. "
Industry representative, the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA), reports that its 59 regional member associations accounted for more than US$114 Billion in retail sales in 2007, through the activities of more than 62 million independent sales representatives.
The United States Direct Selling Association (DSA) reported that in 2000, 55% of adult Americans had at some time purchased goods or services from a direct selling representative and 20% reported that they were currently(6%) or had been in the past(14%) a direct selling representative.
According to the WFDSA, consumers benefit from direct selling because of the convenience and service benefits it provides, including personal demonstration and explanation of products, home delivery, and generous satisfaction guarantees. In contrast to franchising, the cost for an individual to start an independent direct selling business is typically very low, with little or no required inventory or cash commitments to begin.
Most direct selling associations, including the Bundesverband Direktvertrieb Deutschland, the direct selling association of Germany, and the WFDSA and DSA require their members to abide by a code of conduct towards a fair partnership both with customers and salesmen. Most national direct selling associations are represented in the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA).
Direct selling is different from direct marketing in that it is about individual sales agents reaching and dealing directly with clients while direct marketing is about business organizations seeking a relationship with their customers without going through an agent/consultant or retail outlet.
Direct selling often, but not always, uses multi-level marketing (a salesperson is paid for selling and for sales made by people he recruits or sponsors) rather than single-level marketing (salesperson is paid only for the sales he makes himself).
Selling Through Intermediaries
A marketing channel where intermediaries such as wholesalers and retailers are utilized to make a product available to the customer is called an indirect channel.
The most indirect channel you can use (Producer/manufacturer --> agent --> wholesaler --> retailer --> consumer) is used when there are many small manufacturers and many small retailers and an agent is used to help coordinate a large supply of the product.
Dual distribution describes a wide variety of marketing arrangements by which the manufacturer or wholesalers uses more than one channel simultaneously to reach the end user. They may sell directly to the end users as well as sell to other companies for resale. Using two or more channels to attract the same target market can sometimes lead to channel conflict.
An example of dual distribution is business format franchising, where the franchisors, license the operation of some of its units to franchisees while simultaneously owning and operating some units themselves.
If you've read about the other three channels, you would have noticed that they have one thing in common -- the flow. Each one flows from producer to intermediary (if there is one) to consumer.
Technology, however, has made another flow possible. This one goes in the reverse direction and may go -- from consumer to intermediary to beneficiary. Think of making money from the resale of a product or recycling.
There is another distinction between reverse channels and the more traditional ones -- the introduction of a beneficiary. In a reverse flow, you won't find a producer. You'll only find a User or a Beneficiary.