International marketers face many additional complexities in designing their channels. Each country has its own unique distribution system that has evolved over time and changes very slowly. These channel systems can vary widely from country to country. The relative significance of different members or elements of a channel system - for example, the role of wholesalers versus retailers or shopkeepers - can vary significantly across countries. For instance, in food and drinks retailing, contract distributors play a far more important role hi the delivery of goods from producer to retailer in the United Kingdom than in other EU countries like Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Also, multiple retailer dominance of the grocery market is more pervasive in the United Kingdom than in the latter countries. Intercountry variations are partly due to history, tradition, legal conditions find economic reasons behind effectiveness and efficiency. Thus global marketers must usually adapt their channel strategies to the existing structures within each country.
In some markets, the distribution system is complex and hard lo penetrate, consisting of many layers and large numbers of intermediaries. Consider Japan:
The Japanese distribution system stems from the early seventeenth century when cottage industries and a [quickly growing] urban population spawned a merchant class ... Despite Japan's economic achievements, the distribution system has remained remarkably faithful to its antique pattern ... [It] encompasses a wide range of wholesalers and other agents, brokers and retailers, differing more in number than in function from their European or American counterparts. There arc myriad tiny retail shops. An even greater number of wholesalers supplies goods to them, layered tier upon tier, many more than most executives in other country markets would think necessary. For example, soap may move through three wholesalers plus a sales company after it leaves the manufacturer before it ever reaches the retail outlet. A steak goes from rancher to consumers in a process that often involves a dozen middle agents ... The distribution network ... reflects the traditionally close ties among many Japanese companies ... [and places] much greater emphasis on personal relationships with users ... Although [these channels appear] inefficient and cumbersome, they seem to serve the Japanese customer well ... Lacking much storage space in their small homes, most Japanese homeoiakers shop several times a week and prefer convenient [and more personal] neighbourhood shops.13
Many western firms have had great difficulty breaking into the closely knit, tradition-bound Japanese distribution network. Foreign companies have often found this a major barrier lo setting up shop in Japan, although more recently, channel changes within the Japanese market have enabled fast-footed multinationals to secure a foothold in this unwieldy market. Marketing Highlight 21.2 draws attention to changes in Japan's Large-Scale Retail Store Law, and shows how large western retailers have sought to breaking into Japan's famously restrictive and overregulated retailing industry.
At the other extreme, distribution systems in developing countries may be scattered and inefficient, or altogether lacking. For example. China and India are huge markets, each containing hundreds of millions of people. In reality, however, these markets are much smaller than the population numbers suggest. Because of inadequate distribution systems in both countries, most companies can profitably access only the small portion of the population that is located in each country's most affluent cities
Thus international marketers face a wide range of channel alternatives. Designing efficient and effective channel systems between and within various country markets poses a difficult challenge.
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