As we have discussed earlier, firms have to make tradeoffs between different considerations such as cost of distribution, intensity vs. exclusivity, and service provided. Some of the services ultimately desired by consumers include bulk-breaking (as previously discussed), spatial convenience (being able to buy milk in the supermarket rather than having to drive out to a farmer to get it), timing of availability (having someone—the retailer and other channel members—plan to have toothpaste available in the store when the consumer needs it), and providing a breadth of assortment (the same store will carry different kinds of food and other merchandise from different suppliers.
Segmentation involves identifying groups of consumers who respond relatively similarly to different treatments. In general, we want to find segments that contain people who are as similar as possible to each other while, simultaneously, being as different as possible from members of other segments. Thus, for example, members of what we might term a price sensitive food segment are likely to seek out the lowest priced retailers even if they are not located conveniently, buy larger packages, switch brands depending on what is on sale, and cut coupons. The “fussy” segment, in contrast, may shop either where the best quality is found or at the most convenient location, and may be brand loyal and not cut coupons. Note that not all members of each segment will be completely alike, and there is some tension between precision of description and cutting the segments into too small pieces. The idea, here, then, is for different channels to serve different consumers (e.g., price sensitive individuals are targeted by Food 4 Less while more upscale stores target the price insensitives).