Distribution contracts to support optimal inventory holdings under demand uncertainty
When suppliers produce products for which demand is uncertain, they face a problem of inducing downstream distributors to stock inventory levels that the suppliers prefer. This paper considers a wide array of alternative supply contracts, each of which consists of a mixture of constant per-unit wholesale prices, buy-back arrangements, and post sale payments contingent on sales made, such as revenue sharing or buybacks. We show that linear supply contracts specifying any combination of two of these three instruments can implement the vertical integrated outcome for a monopoly, thereby generating the supplier's preferred inventory configuration and price distribution. We extend our results to differentiated product oligopoly, demonstrating that each supplier obtains its preferred inventory configuration and price distribution, given the choices of its rival. Distributors choose optimal inventories from the suppliers' standpoint, even if suppliers do not know the distribution of demand uncertainty, and, given the perfect competition among distributors, all profits in the supply chain are captured by suppliers. Thus, suppliers are able to deal with demand uncertainty with remarkably little information about demand, and without the need to control dealer actions in detail. In particular, suppliers need not specify either dealer inventories or resale prices, but instead encourage distributors to order based on information in their possession and to set prices that generate desirable resale price dispersion.
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