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Parallel Imports: Challenges from Unauthorized Distribution Channels


  • Reza Ahmadi

    () (The Anderson School, University of California, Los Angeles, 110 Westwood Plaza, Suite B512, Los Angeles, California 90095)

  • B. Rachel Yang

    () (The Anderson School, University of California, Los Angeles, 110 Westwood Plaza, Suite B512, Los Angeles, California 90095)


We examine the problem of parallel imports: unauthorized flows of products across countries, which compete with authorized distribution channels. The traditional economics model of a discriminating monopolist that has different prices for the same good in different markets requires the markets to be separated in some way, usually geographically. The profits from price discrimination can be threatened by parallel imports that allow consumers in the high-priced region some access to the low-priced marketplace. However, as this article shows, there is a very real possibility that parallel imports may actually increase profits. The basic intuition is that parallel importation becomes another channel for the authentic goods and creates a new product version that allows the manufacturer to price discriminate. We propose a two-country, three-stage model to quantitatively study the effects and strategies. In the third stage, and in the higher priced country where parallel imports have entered, we characterize the resulting market segmentation. One segment of consumers stays with the authorized version as they place more value on the warranty and services that come with the authorized version. Another segment switches to parallel imports because a lower price is offered due to lack of country-specific features or warranties. Parallel imports also generate a third and new segment that would not have bought this product before. Unlike counterfeits that are fabricated by imitators, all parallel imports are genuine and sourced from the manufacturer in the lower-priced country through authorized dealers. Therefore, the manufacturer's global sales quantity should increase, but profit may rise or fall depending on the relative sizes and profitability of the segments. A profit-maximizing parallel importer should set price and quantity in the second stage after observing the manufacturer's prices in both countries. There will be a threshold of across-country price gap above which parallel imports would occur. In the first stage, the manufacturer can anticipate the possible occurrence of a parallel import, its price and quantity, and its effect on authorized sales in each country to make a coordinated pricing decision to maximize the global supply chain profit. Under some circumstances the manufacturer should allow parallel imports and under others should prevent them. Through a Stackelberg game we solve for the optimal pricing strategy in each scenario. We then find in one extension that when the number of parallel importers increases, the optimal authorized price gap should narrow, but the prices and quantities of parallel imports may rise or fall. In another extension, we .nd that when the manufacturer has other means—such as monitoring dealers, differentiating designs, and unbundling warranties—to contain parallel imports, the authorized price gap can widen as a function of the effectiveness of nonpricing controls. In summary, parallel imports may help the manufacturer to extend the global reach of its product and even boost its global profit. If the manufacturer offers a discount version through its authorized dealers, it is running a high risk of confusing customers and tarnishing brand images. Parallel imports may cause similar concerns for the manufacturer, but unauthorized dealers are perceived as further removed from the manufacturer. Therefore, there is less risk of confusing consumers when parallel imports are channeled through unauthorized dealers. Furthermore, they are more nimble in diverting the product whenever their transshipment and marketing costs are small enough not to offset the authorized price gap and the valuation discount. This may explain why some manufacturers fiercely fight parallel imports, while others knowingly use this alternative channel.

Suggested Citation

  • Reza Ahmadi & B. Rachel Yang, 2000. "Parallel Imports: Challenges from Unauthorized Distribution Channels," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 19(3), pages 279-294, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormksc:v:19:y:2000:i:3:p:279-294

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Raff, Horst & Schmitt, Nicolas, 2007. "Why parallel trade may raise producers' profits," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 434-447, April.
    2. Arijit Mukherjee & Laixun Zhao, 2012. "Profitable parallel trade in unionized markets," Journal of Economics, Springer, vol. 107(3), pages 267-276, November.
    3. Kim, Bosung & Park, Kun Soo, 2016. "Organizational structure of a global supply chain in the presence of a gray market: Information asymmetry and valuation difference," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 175(C), pages 71-80.
    4. Ying Xiao & Udatta Palekar & Yunchuan Liu, 2011. "Shades of gray—the impact of gray markets on authorized distribution channels," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 155-178, June.
    5. ISHIKAWA Jota & MORITA Hodaka & MUKUNOKI Hiroshi, 2015. "Parallel Imports and Repair Services," Discussion papers 15060, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    6. Kupper, G. & Willems, Bert, 2007. "Arbitrage in Energy Markets : Competing in the Incumbent's Shadow," Discussion Paper 2007-094, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    7. Iravani, Foad & Dasu, Sriram & Ahmadi, Reza, 2016. "Beyond price mechanisms: How much can service help manage the competition from gray markets?," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 252(3), pages 789-800.
    8. Raimondos-Møller, Pascalis & Schmitt, Nicolas, 2010. "Commodity taxation and parallel imports," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(1-2), pages 153-162, February.
    9. Teodora Cosac, 2004. "Vertical Restraints and Parallel Imports with Differentiated Products," Industrial Organization 0401006, EconWPA.
    10. Zhang, Jianqiang, 2016. "The benefits of consumer rebates: A strategy for gray market deterrence," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 251(2), pages 509-521.
    11. Braouezec, Yann, 2012. "Customer-class pricing, parallel trade and the optimal number of market segments," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 605-614.
    12. Noriaki Matsushima & Toshihiro Matsumura, 2010. "Profit-Enhancing Parallel Imports," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 21(3), pages 433-447, July.
    13. Stefan Stremersch & Peter C. Verhoef, 2005. "Globalization of Authorship in the Marketing Discipline: Does It Help or Hinder the Field?," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 24(4), pages 585-594, February.
    14. Roy, Santanu & Saggi, Kamal, 2012. "Equilibrium parallel import policies and international market structure," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(2), pages 262-276.
    15. repec:eee:jouret:v:92:y:2016:i:4:p:397-410 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Matsui, Kenji, 2014. "Gray-market trade with product information service in global supply chains," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 147(PB), pages 351-361.
    17. repec:eee:jouret:v:91:y:2015:i:4:p:610-626 is not listed on IDEAS


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