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Multichannels Strategy Implementation: The Role of Channel Alignment Capabilities*


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    The authors gratefully acknowledge funding for this project through the Institute for the Study of Business Markets.

† Corresponding author.


A firm's distribution channels represent a key portfolio of resources that can be leveraged for competitive advantage. One approach to this portfolio that has become increasingly important in recent years is multichannel distribution (MCD). While this strategy has important benefits in terms of market coverage and firm performance, the use of multiple channels seriously affects downstream channel roles such as service delivery, as the financial rewards to channel members and the services they offer are separated. A channel member who offers poor or no service can free-ride on the services offered to the same customer from a different channel. We draw on agency theory to explain these negative consequences. Additionally, the resource-based view of the firm along with capabilities theory provides two key means of alleviating these consequences: channel tracking capabilities and reward alignment capabilities. The study, conducted in an industry facing serious MCD issues (the outdoor sporting goods industry), used key informant data matched to secondary data. Our results show that managers can reap the performance rewards of MCD strategies while minimizing its negative consequences. In particular, monitoring practices such as frequent site visits and phone contact with customers develop the firm's channel tracking capabilities, allowing managers to better monitor downstream activities. This becomes particularly important as the complexity from having multiple channels increases. Likewise, reward alignment capabilities such as retail price maintenance agreements and cooperative advertising enable the manager to minimize conflict among channel participants by ensuring sufficient profitability for all channel members.