What is Indirect Distribution Channel? Definition, Strategies, Examples, and Pros/Cons

What is Indirect Distribution?

Indirect distribution is a method where a manufacturer relies on intermediaries – such as wholesalers, distributors, or retailers – to get its products into the hands of consumers.

Instead of dealing directly with customers, the manufacturer delegates aspects of the sales process to these intermediaries. These middlemen take care of tasks like warehousing, selling, and delivery, freeing the manufacturer from certain responsibilities and costs associated with selling directly to end-users.

In essence, indirect distribution involves a relay of sorts, where various partners play a role in bringing the product from the manufacturer to the consumer, creating a network that simplifies the distribution process.

How Does an Indirect Distribution Channel Work?

An indirect distribution channel operates through intermediaries like wholesalers, retailers, or distributors who facilitate the product’s journey from the manufacturer to the end consumer. The manufacturer sells to these intermediaries, who then handle tasks like storage, sales, and delivery to the final buyers. This method allows manufacturers to reach a wider audience while leveraging the expertise and resources of various partners in the distribution chain.

Parties Involved in Indirect Distribution Channel

In indirect distribution channels, various intermediaries contribute to the movement of goods from manufacturers to consumers:

  • Exporters: These intermediaries handle the shipping and sale of products across international borders. They facilitate the transfer of goods from the manufacturer’s country to international markets.
  • Importers: Once the products arrive in a new market, importers take charge. They receive these goods from exporters and manage their entry into the local market, handling customs, tariffs, and legal procedures.
  • Wholesalers: Acting as middlemen, wholesalers purchase goods in bulk from manufacturers and distribute them in smaller quantities to retailers or other businesses. They streamline the process by supplying products to various retail outlets.
  • Retailers: These intermediaries sell products directly to consumers. They can be brick-and-mortar stores, online marketplaces, or any platform where end-users purchase goods.
  • Agents or Brokers: Acting on behalf of either the manufacturer or the buyer, these intermediaries facilitate transactions between the two parties. They don’t take ownership of the goods but assist in connecting buyers with sellers.
  • Distributors: These entities specialize in the distribution of products to various locations or businesses. They manage the logistics, transportation, and storage of goods, ensuring they reach the intended markets efficiently.

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Advantages of Indirect Distribution Channel

Let’s explore the key advantages of an indirect channel of distribution:

Extended Market Reach

Indirect distribution broadens the horizons for your products, tapping into markets that might be challenging to access directly. Through various intermediaries like wholesalers, retailers, and agents, your products can reach diverse geographical locations or niche markets that might otherwise be out of reach.

Cost Efficiency

Leveraging existing networks of intermediaries can save costs compared to establishing your own distribution infrastructure. Instead of investing heavily in setting up warehouses, transportation, or retail stores, you can partner with established players who already possess these resources. It’s akin to sharing the rent of a spacious office with other businesses rather than building your own office from scratch.

Local Expertise

Intermediaries often have deep insights into local markets. They understand customer preferences, buying behaviors, and regional differences. Collaborating with them allows you to benefit from their localized knowledge, enabling better adaptation of products or services to meet specific market demands.

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Existing Supply Chain

Instead of constructing your own supply chain from the ground up, partnering with intermediaries grants you access to their established networks. This access accelerates the movement of products from manufacturer to end consumer, reducing lead times and ensuring more efficient delivery.

Focus on Core Business

Indirect distribution allows you to concentrate on your core strengths, such as product innovation, quality enhancement, or marketing strategies. By delegating distribution functions to intermediaries, you free up resources and time to nurture your business’s core competencies. It’s like a chef focusing solely on perfecting the recipe while leaving the food delivery to an efficient courier service.

Risk Mitigation

Sharing responsibilities with intermediaries also means sharing risks. If a specific market or product line doesn’t perform as expected, the impact may be softened by diversification across various channels and partners. It’s similar to spreading your investments across different stocks to reduce overall financial risk.

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Disadvantages of Indirect Distribution

With many advantages, indirect channels of distribution also have its downsides:

Reduced Control

Entrusting intermediaries means less control over how your products are presented and sold. It’s like sending your friends to a party with your goodies – you can’t oversee how they pitch or display your products, possibly affecting customer perception.

Profit Sharing

Sharing the pie with intermediaries means less of the earnings land in your pocket. It’s like hosting a bake sale but splitting the proceeds with others who help sell your treats. While you may reach more customers, your slice of the pie gets smaller.

Dependency on Intermediaries

Relying on intermediaries means your success can be tied to their performance. It’s akin to riding on someone else’s bicycle – if they slow down or take a detour, your journey might get affected.

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Limited Relationship with Customers

Indirect channels create distance from customers. It’s like sending a message through a friend – you lose direct contact, making it harder to understand customer needs or collect feedback.

Competing for Attention

Sharing shelf space with competitor products in retail stores means you’re in a crowd. It’s like trying to stand out in a busy marketplace where many others are vying for attention. Your product might get lost in the mix if not highlighted well.

Strategies For Indirect Distribution

To achieve success with indirect distribution you can use the following strategies to implement it effectively:

Selective Distribution

This strategy involves carefully selecting specific intermediaries based on certain criteria. Instead of widespread availability, companies opt for a more focused approach. They assess the expertise, market reach, or alignment with brand values before choosing partners.

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For instance, a luxury brand might select high-end boutiques as intermediaries to maintain an exclusive image rather than mass-market retail chains. Selective distribution ensures a more controlled distribution network, emphasizing quality over quantity.

Intensive Distribution

Intensive distribution operates on the principle of maximum coverage. Companies employing this strategy aim to saturate the market by distributing their products through numerous intermediaries. They collaborate with multiple wholesalers, retailers, and distributors to ensure extensive availability.

This approach is common for everyday products or fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs). For instance, a snack company might opt for intensive distribution to ensure its products are available at various supermarkets, convenience stores, and vending machines.

Exclusive Distribution

Exclusive distribution restricts the number of intermediaries selling a particular product. It’s often utilized for high-end or niche products that aim to maintain exclusivity. Companies carefully handpick limited intermediaries, granting them exclusive rights to sell their products. For example, a luxury watch brand might partner exclusively with select high-end retailers or establish standalone boutiques to maintain the brand’s exclusivity and perceived value.

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Franchising involves granting the rights to sell products or services under a brand to independent operators. It’s like establishing multiple branches, but these are owned and operated by others while adhering to the brand’s standards. This strategy allows companies to expand rapidly without significant capital investment. Famous examples include fast-food chains like McDonald’s or hotel franchises like Hilton, where individual operators manage units while following established brand guidelines.

Strategic Alliances

Strategic alliances involve collaborations between companies to expand market reach. This strategy entails partnering with complementary businesses to leverage each other’s strengths, resources, or market access. Such alliances could be between manufacturers, distributors, or even non-competing companies aiming for mutual benefits. For instance, a tech company might partner with a software firm to bundle their products or services together, creating more value for customers.

Examples of Indirect Distribution

Here are five examples of companies employing indirect distribution channels and how they implement this strategy:

Samsung Electronics

Samsung utilizes an extensive network of intermediaries, including wholesalers and retailers, to distribute its electronics globally. The company partners with various retailers like Best Buy, Amazon, and local electronic stores. By doing so, Samsung products are widely available through these retail channels. This approach allows Samsung to reach diverse customer segments and geographic locations through established retail networks.

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Coca-Cola adopts an intensive distribution strategy by collaborating with numerous wholesalers and retailers worldwide. It partners with supermarkets, convenience stores, vending machine operators, and restaurants. Through these partnerships, Coca-Cola’s beverages are ubiquitously available, ensuring maximum market penetration. The company’s products are present in a vast array of outlets, allowing easy access for consumers across different regions.


Nike employs a selective distribution strategy by choosing specific retail partners. The company collaborates with athletic footwear retailers like Foot Locker, JD Sports, and independent sports stores. Nike carefully selects these partners based on their market presence, customer base, and brand alignment. This strategy ensures that Nike maintains its brand image while reaching its target audience through selected retail partners.

Procter & Gamble (P&G)

P&G utilizes an extensive network of distributors and retailers for its consumer goods. The company partners with supermarkets, pharmacies, and online retailers to distribute products like Tide detergent and Pampers diapers. P&G’s products are available through various channels, ensuring wide accessibility to consumers through established retail networks.

Hewlett-Packard (HP)

HP implements an exclusive distribution strategy for its high-end computers and printers. The company partners with selective retailers, often specialized computer stores or authorized dealers. These exclusive partners are carefully chosen to provide a premium experience and expert advice to customers looking for HP’s specialized products. This strategy helps HP maintain a premium image for its products while ensuring knowledgeable customer service.

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