What are the major types of intermediaries?

Marketing intermediaries, also known as middlemen or distribution intermediaries, are an important part of the product distribution channel. Intermediaries are individuals or businesses that make it possible for the product to make it from the manufacturer to the end user, essentially facilitating the sales process. According to Business Dictionary, the four basic types of marketing intermediaries are agents, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers.


The agent as a marketing intermediary is an independent individual or company whose main function is to act as the primary selling arm of the producer and represent the producer to users. Agents take possession of products but do not actually own them. Agents usually make profits from commissions or fees paid for the services they provide to the producer and users.


Wholesalers are independently owned firms that take title to the merchandise they handle. In other words, the wholesalers own the products they sell. Wholesalers purchase the product in bulk and store it until they can resell it. Wholesalers generally sell the products they have purchased to other intermediaries, usually retailers, for a profit.


Distributors are similar to wholesalers, but with one key difference. Wholesalers will carry a variety of competing products, for instance, Pepsi and Coke products, whereas distributors only carry complementary product lines, either Pepsi or Coke products. Distributors usually maintain close relationships with their suppliers and customers. Distributors will take title to products and store them until they are sold.


A retailer takes title to, or purchases, products from other market intermediaries. Retailers can be independently owned and operated, like small “mom and pop stores or they can be part of a large chain, like Walmart. The retailer will sell the products it has purchased directly to the end user for a profit.

Evaluating the Major Alternatives

  • Using economic criteria, a company compares the likely sales, costs, and profitability of different channel alternatives. The company must also consider control issues. Using intermediaries usually means giving them some control over the marketing of the product, and some intermediaries take more control than others.
  • The company must apply adaptability criteria. Channels often involve long-term commitments, yet the company wants to keep the channel flexible so that it can adapt to environmental changes.