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Trade Promotion: Essential to Selling through Resellers

Some industry observers claim that the steady increase in trade promotion expenditures in the packaged goods industry is symptomatic of a shift in power toward retailers and away from manufacturers. As firms sell more goods on deal, managers complain that promotions are eroding the power of brands. More preferable, they say, are "everyday low prices" (EDLP) rather than strategies that involve price discounts and other allowances. Trade promotion is a prime cause of the "bullwhip effect" in channels, and EDLP is perceived as a solution.

However, the authors point out that EDLP may cause its own unexpected side effects. Because certain incentives and trade deals may perform important functions, managers must consider the second- and third-order effects of discontinuing them. The same logic applies to channels, so managers must assess how channel members are likely to react to various pricing strategies.

In this article, the authors discuss the underappreciated role of well-designed trade promotions. Using the example of a single manufacturer selling to and through a retailer, they show how certain promotions increase total channel profits and the manufacturer's share of those profits beyond levels achievable with a single price and without promotions. Furthermore, they believe that firms can implement these promotions in ways that avoid many issues associated with retailer forward-buying and gray markets. In fact, certain trade promotions may benefit the manufacturer as much as the retailer -- if not more.

Although some trade promotions create more problems than they solve, not all forms of trade promotion are bad. Manufacturers can effectively influence a retailer's selling activity and coordinate the distribution channel by using price-up and deal-down strategies that link manufacturer prices to the price featured by the retailer. However, manufacturers and retailers must set margins in a sustainable way, which requires a combination of margin and volume that produces acceptable profits for both channel partners.

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