Running a retail business feels more complicated today than ever before. To survive in a competitive market, brands have to outshine their competitors and reach their customers where they are. This can be a challenge — that is, if you don’t have an optimized distribution strategy.

Read on to find out:

Your strategy is your plan to speed the connection between your offerings and their end-users. That’s whether they’re consumers, businesses, or a mixture of the two. There are many considerations to account for when defining a distribution strategy. The following are a handful of the most notable:

First, let’s look at one of the fundamental building blocks of an optimized distribution strategy—those being distribution channels.

You might think distribution channels are self-explanatory. It’s the different places you sell your products, right? Wrong. That’s a common misconception. Your website, a third-party platform, or a physical store is not a distribution channel. However, each can form part of your distribution channel.

Lots of channels, in fact, include intermediate steps between your firm and consumers. The principal players in such more complex chains are as follows:

Your business can exist at different points of these channels. If you sell many different products, too, each may have their own channel. You may also utilize more than one – or even more than one type – even if you only provide one product line. That’s where three principal varieties of distribution strategy enter the picture.

An optimized sales distribution strategy is one tailored to your brand and customers. You don’t have to choose from a limited number of prescribed alternatives. There are, however, three categories into which most strategies fall:

Many brands adopt this type of plan. It involves implementing as many different channels as possible for a given product. The most notable advantage is that this enhances market penetration for the product. It can be an expensive choice, however.

This strategy is when firms choose different channels for specific products or services. They might, for instance, only sell an item in a particular geographic area. Or they may restrict sales of product lines to only their website. The idea here is to match channels to consumer behavior and demand. That, thus, is more cost and time-efficient for the brand.

Companies may restrict the provision of some items even more. They could, for instance, use only one very narrow channel for a particular line. When brands use this tactic, they’re trying to stoke scarcity and thus demand. It’s how companies make products seem higher-end and more desirable.

The best distribution strategies, too, account for and encompass other elements, such as:

Household cleaning products aim to position their product in almost every type of general store, meaning both direct and indirect outlets. Customers can buy their favorite dish soap online from wholesalers, curb-side pickup at their favorite grocery store (distributors), or in person as they run errands.

By using the intensive strategy, dish soap is available at:

Ice cream is typically seen as another product sold using the intensive distribution strategy. Still, for smaller brands that aren’t sold in big box stores, Jeni’s has the opportunity to offer exclusive flavors and products depending on the location of its ice cream parlors — and now even through shipping.

This brand’s selective strategy is reflected in that for particular states or shop locations, exclusive merch like pint koozies, seasonal flavors, or limited edition flavors are only available in controlled ways and periods.

Even more niche of a service offering, a small business running a pet-sitting service may only encompass a particular zip code or clientele. This business may only be advertised through word-of-mouth or flyers shared around a small town.

This strategy also works for a business like a pet sitter because pet owners may trust a single individual more than a chain pet hotel. The customers’ pets may get more attention and better care — displaying the value in exclusivity as owners will have more trust and build a closer relationship with the service provider over chains offering the same service.

The most successful companies are those who create a genuine connection with consumers. You can’t do that with a scattershot approach to distribution. You must tailor your strategy to those you wish to serve. That way, you ensure your target market gets the desired customer experience.

An optimized distribution strategy, then, can aid both customer retention and acquisition. Thus, winning you more sales in two distinct ways. How, though, can you create that kind of strategy?

Staying focused on your customers is always a good rule of thumb. When defining a distribution strategy, though, you should also consider your commercial goals. Your chosen channels must be viable as regards your budget and future plans.

For instance, you may find that consumers like to buy your kind of products directly online. That could suggest a direct channel where you sell through a dedicated online store. Say, however, that you’ve never dabbled with eCommerce before.

Starting to sell online is no small undertaking. There’s far more to it than designing a website, going line, and watching sales come in. You must promote your site and get traffic. What’s more, you have to get the logistics right for shipping and delivery.

Speaking of balance — once you’ve chosen distribution chains, you have to ensure they line up. Each channel must serve a particular purpose, or else it’s unnecessary. What you offer to customers through them all, however, must align.

Consumers won’t like finding out they can get your product cheaper if they buy it in a different way. Pricing, positioning, and promotions across channels must get carefully balanced. You must, too, consider how best to satisfy demand via all avenues. Your supply chain needs may vary by channel.

Your distribution strategy will, by nature, be multi-faceted. For each channel, you must consider diverse elements. Things such as marketing, sales, logistics, customer service, and more. It’s vital to have all business areas pulling in the same direction.

Make sure that your departments all share information. Customer service agents must know about marketing promotions for particular products. Your sales staff have to get told about logistics issues- especially if they make delivering certain lines more difficult.

Once you decide on the channels to use as part of your strategy, you need to make it a reality. That means creating a network of partners to help you distribute your goods as you desire.

You may have to reach out to manufacturers, wholesalers, or retailers, for instance. That’s not to mention other firms or service providers. People like web developers or third-party logistics (3PL) specialists.

Once you’ve made connections, too, you should keep working to develop them. Keeping cordial relations with suppliers or retailers is just common sense. It makes them more likely to help you out if and when needed.

If you’re a manufacturer, it could help you, too, to provide product training to retailers. When they know your products inside-out, they’re better equipped to sell them. They’ll also be able to offer better support to consumers.

Business, whatever your niche or industry, is never static. That means that even once you’ve got an optimized distribution strategy, your work’s not done. You need to keep it as efficient as possible with constant evaluation.

Continually evaluating your strategy lets you make timely improvements. You can add new channels, re-balance your existing ones, and more, as consumer demand dictates. It’s how to stay ahead of your rivals.

Supplying the right lines, at the correct time, by the best method is fundamental to success. That’s why it’s essential to develop an optimized distribution strategy.

Getting your products or services to your end-users is a priority that shouldn’t be dismissed. We hope you follow some of the tips outlined above for your sales strategy to do just that. You’ll enable your business to improve the customer experience, satisfaction and possibly win more sales.

Editor’s note: The article was originally published October 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.