What is Selective Distribution?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Selective distribution is a retail strategy that involves making a product or group of products available only in certain markets. This is the opposite of open distribution, where a product line is distributed to as many markets as possible. There are several reasons for employing this approach, including the potential for limiting competition and minimizing distribution costs so that net profits are higher.

Selective distribution involves limiting an item's availability to certain market.
Selective distribution involves limiting an item's availability to certain market.

The selective distribution process focuses on identifying specific markets where a company’s products are highly likely to be favored by consumers in the area, while avoiding distribution to areas where there is less of a chance of gaining a significant market share. Often, this situation comes about because a number of similar products are already available through certain markets, and the level of competition is higher. By choosing to distribute goods through handpicked retailers within certain geographic regions, it is possible to avoid some of this competition, while still tapping into the demand for products of that type.

Some companies may withhold their products from being sold at drugstores or other types of retailers.
Some companies may withhold their products from being sold at drugstores or other types of retailers.

One approach that some businesses take is to contract with a limited number of retailers that will sell the products in their stores. For example, a company making a specific brand of cologne may choose to only allow their product to be sold at a few high-end department stores and withhold distribution to supermarkets, drugstores, and discount retailers. The idea is that, by focusing on consumers who are more likely to shop at one or more of the high-end stores, the product begins to be seen as somewhat prestigious and will command a higher price per unit.

Along with the selection of retailers, a company may choose to limit distribution of its products to specific geographical areas. This is sometimes the case where there is a strong demand for a given product, but very few opportunities to purchase the product locally. In this scenario, the manufacturer may identify specific retailers with stores in those geographical areas and make arrangements for those products to be carried on their shelves. The retailers benefit from being able to offer a product that is not widely available in the area, while the manufacturer stands to increase sales by having little to no competition from similar products within that area.

It is important to draw a distinction between exclusive distribution and selective distribution. An exclusive model would involve the identification of a single retailer to offer the product within a particular market and would also call for the retailer to not carry competing brands. This is not often the best approach for the manufacturer or the retailer, in that it limits options to reach consumers. A selective model does not prevent retailers from selling at least one similar product, and does not limit the manufacturer from working with other retailers in the area to carry the product line. Under normal circumstances, the selective approach is much more likely to maximize profits in a given market than the exclusive approach.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Selective distribution means the company selects some shops like x,y,z to sell a product.


Often, if a product does really well under selective distribution, it might be released more widely, though that can be a tricky thing. Sometimes distributing more widely can lower a product's perceived value, though it can please people who really like it and have a hard time finding the product.


Another example of selective distribution can be seen through the movie industry. Many "indie", or independent, movies are distributed very selectively. This relates both to these movies' smaller distribution budgets and also their niche customer bases. A documentary on something like graffiti, for example, like the recent movie Exit Through the Gift Shop, is going to do best at smaller theaters in more artistic communities than small towns or shopping mall multiplexes.

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