A distribution channel can have several stages depending on how many organisations are involved in it:
Looking at the diagram above:
Channel 1 contains two stages between producer and consumer - a wholesaler and a retailer. A wholesaler typically buys and stores large quantities of several producers' goods and then breaks into bulk deliveries to supply retailers with smaller quantities. For small retailers with limited order quantities, the use of wholesalers makes economic sense.
Channel 2 contains one intermediary. In consumer markets, this is typically a retailer. The consumer electrical goods market in the UK is typical of this arrangement whereby producers such as Sony, Panasonic, Canon etc. sell their goods directly to large retailers such as Comet, Tesco and Amazon which then sell onto the final consumers.
Channel 3 is called a "direct-marketing" channel, since it has no intermediary levels. In this case the manufacturer sells directly to customers. An example of a direct marketing channel would be a factory outlet store. Many holiday companies also market direct to consumers, bypassing a traditional retail intermediary - the travel agent.
What factors should be taken into account in choosing the best distribution channel? Here is a summary:
Nature of the product