Agency Selling or Reselling? Channel Structures in Electronic Retailing

Z. John Zhang, Marketing, The Wharton School; Kinshuk Jerath, Columbia Business School; and Vibhanshu Abhishek, University of California – Irvine

Management Science, December 2015

Abstract: In recent years, online retailers (also called e-tailers) have started allowing manufacturers direct access to their customers while charging a fee for providing this access, a format commonly referred to as agency selling. In this paper, we use a stylized theoretical model to answer a key question that e-tailers are facing: When should they use an agency selling format instead of using the more conventional reselling format? We find that agency selling is more efficient than reselling and leads to lower retail prices; however, the e-tailers end up giving control over retail prices to the manufacturer. Therefore, the reaction by the manufacturer, who makes electronic channel pricing decisions based on their impact on demand in the traditional channel (brick-and-mortar retailing), is an important factor for e-tailers to consider. We find that when sales in the electronic channel lead to a negative effect on demand in the traditional channel, e-tailers prefer agency selling, whereas when sales in the electronic channel lead to substantial stimulation of demand in the traditional channel, e-tailers prefer reselling. This preference is mediated by competition between e-tailers—as competition between them increases, e-tailers prefer to use agency selling. We also find that when e-tailers benefit from positive externalities from the sales of the focal product (such as additional profits from sales of associated products), retail prices may be lower under reselling than under agency selling, and the e-tailers prefer reselling under some conditions for which they would prefer agency selling without the positive externalities.

Read the full paper here.