Effects of distribution channel structure in markets with vertically differentiated products

Xuan Zhao, Derek Atkins, Yong Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This study examines how the structure of distribution channels may influence firms' quality and price strategies and how they may in turn affect consumer welfare. It treats product quality as a decision variable so that the degree of product substitution becomes endogenous rather than exogenous as in previous studies. We find that, with vertically differentiated firms, the changes in channel structure have asymmetric effects depending on whether they occur in the high-quality channel or in the low-quality channel. The product quality of the high-quality channel decreases when it decentralizes unilaterally. However, product quality of the low-quality channel would increase when it decentralizes. The high-quality manufacturer and its channel suffer more from decentralization in comparison with their low-quality counterparts, and the low-quality manufacturer actually receives greater profits when both channels are decentralized. An important driver behind these asymmetries is the interaction between firms' pricing incentives in integrated versus decentralized channels and what consumer segments they serve. Our analysis indicates that decentralization may reduce consumer welfare, but decentralization in the high-quality channel hurts consumers more than that in the low-quality channel. Therefore in a competitive environment where firms make both quality and price decisions, channel integration would have significant welfare enhancement effects through the elimination of double marginalization, especially if it happens in the high-quality channel. Moreover, we demonstrate that once quality is endogenized, integration is the only equilibrium of channel structure choices. This suggests that the private incentives of firms may actually benefit consumers but do not have to be in line with the general preference of industry regulation for decentralization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-397
Number of pages21
JournalQuantitative Marketing and Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2009


  • Anti-trust
  • Competition
  • Distribution channel
  • Heterogeneity
  • Pricing
  • Product positioning
  • Quality
  • Vertical differentiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
  • Marketing


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