On manufacturers complementing the traditional retail channel with a direct online channel
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Why is it that in some markets only a few firms find it optimal to complement their retail channels with a direct Internet channel while other firms do not?
What strategic role (if any), does the direct Internet channel serve and how do market characteristics impact this role?
To address these issues we develop a model with a single strategic manufacturer serving a market through a single strategic retailer. In addition to the focal manufacturer's product the retailer carries products of competing manufacturers. Consumers in this market are one of two types. They are either brand loyal or store loyal. The retailer sets the retail price and the level of retail support, which impact the demand for the manufacturer's product. The retailer's decisions in turn depend on the wholesale price as well as the Internet price of the product if the manufacturer decides to complement the retail channel with an online channel.
Our analysis reveals that the optimality of complementing the retail channel with an online channel and the role served by the latter depends critically upon the level of support that the retailer allocates to the manufacturer's product in the absence of the online channel. The level of support allocated by the retailer, in the absence of the online channel, depends upon the retail margins on the manufacturer's product relative to that on rival products in the product category. When the size of the brand loyal segment is small relative to the size of the store loyal segment then in the absence of the online channel, the manufacturer can lower wholesale price and enhance retail support, especially when the retail margins on the rival products are low. In contrast, when the size of the loyal segment is large and the retail margins on rival products are high the manufacturer will find it more profitable to charge a high wholesale price even if that induces the retailer to extend low levels of support. If the manufacturer decides to complement the retail channel with an online channel, some consumers who would have purchased from the retailer might prefer to purchase online. Our analysis reveals that when consumers' sensitivity to price differences across the competing channels exceeds a certain threshold it is not optimal for the manufacturer to complement the retail channel with an online channel. However, this price sensitivity threshold itself depends upon product/market characteristics, suggesting that manufacturers seeking to complement their retail channels with an online channel should look beyond the nature of threat the online channel poses to the retail channel in devising their optimal distribution strategies. When the retail margins on rival products are sufficiently small, complementing the retail channel with an online channel when optimal allows the manufacturer to price discriminate and enhance profits. In contrast when retail margins on rival products are sufficiently high, complementing the retail channel with an online channel serves to enhance retail support. We also identify market conditions under which profits of both the manufacturer and the retailer are greater with the online channel than that without it. This is particularly interesting since the online channel competes with the retail channel.