Marketing channels can get a lot more complex than the channels shown in Figure 8.2 Typical Channels in Business-to-Consumer (B2C) Markets and Figure 8.3 Typical Channels in Business-to-Business (B2B) Markets , though. Look at the channels in Figure 8.6 Alternate Channel Arrangements . Notice how in some situations, a wholesaler will sell to brokers, who then sell to retailers and consumers. In other situations, a wholesaler will sell straight to retailers or straight to consumers. Manufacturers also sell straight to consumers, and, as we explained, sell straight to large retailers like Target.
The point is that firms can and do utilize multiple channels. Take Levi’s, for example. You can buy a pair of Levi’s from a retailer such as Kohl’s, or you can buy a pair directly from Levi’s at one of the outlet stores it owns around the country. You can also buy a pair from the Levi’s Web site.
The key is understanding the different target markets for your product and designing the best channel to meet the needs of customers in each. Is there a group of buyers who would purchase your product if they could shop online from the convenience of their homes? Perhaps there is a group of customers interested in your product but they do not want to pay full price. The ideal way to reach these people might be with an outlet store and low prices. Each group then needs to be marketed to accordingly. Many people regularly interact with companies via numerous channels before making buying decisions.
Using multiple channels can be effective. At least one study has shown that the more marketing channels your customers utilize, the more loyal they are likely to be to your products. 1Companies work hard to try to integrate their selling channels so users get a consistent experience. For example, QVC’s TV channel, Web site, and mobile service—which sends alerts to customers and allows them to buy products via their cell phones—all have the same look and feel.
A company can also use a marketing channel to set itself apart from the crowd. Jones Soda Co. initially placed its own funky-looking soda coolers in skate and surf shops, tattoo and piercing parlors, individual fashion stores, and national retail clothing and music stores. The company then began an up-and-down-the-street “attack,” placing product in convenience and food stores. Finally, the company was able to sell its drinks to bigger companies like Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Safeway, Target, and 7-Eleven stores. 2
Would you like to purchase gold from a vending machine? Soon you will be able to—in Germany. Germans like to purchase gold because it’s considered a safe alternative to paper money, which can become devalued during a period of hyperinflation. So, in addition to selling gold the usual way, TG-Gold-Super-Markt company is planning to install “gold to go” machines in five hundred locations in German-speaking countries. The gold is dispensed in metal boxes, and cameras on the machine monitor the transactions to prevent money laundering. 3
Some companies find ways to increase their sales by forming strategic channel alliances with one another. Harley-Davidson has a strategic channel alliance with Best Western. Click on Harley-Davidson’s “Ride Planner” tab on its Web site, and you can sign up to receive points and other discounts by staying at Best Western hotels and motels. 4Starbucks now dispenses its beverages in some of Safeway’s grocery stores. Starbucks wants grocery shoppers at Safeway craving a cup of coffee to grab one; Safeway hopes customers dropping in for a Starbucks cup of coffee will buy some grocery products.