Product distribution (or place) is one of the four elements of the marketing mix. Distribution is the process of making a product or service available for use or consumption by a consumer or business user, using direct means, or using indirect means with intermediaries.
Distribution of products takes place by means of channels. Channels are sets of interdependent organizations (called intermediaries) involved in making the product available for consumption. Merchants are intermediaries that buy and resell products. Agents and brokers are intermediaries that act on behalf of the producer but do not take title to the products.
A firm can design any number of channels. Channels are classified by the number of intermediaries between producer and consumer. A level zero channel has no intermediaries. This is typical of direct marketing. A level one channel has a single intermediary. This flow is typically from manufacturer to retailer to consumer.
In practice, many organizations use a mix of different channels; in particular, they may complement a direct sales-force, calling on the larger accounts, with agents, covering the smaller customers and prospects. In addition, online retailing or e-commerce is leading to disintermediation. Retailing via smartphone or m-commerce is also a growing area.