Managing gray markets through tolerance of violations: A transaction cost perspective

Mark Bergen, Jan B. Heide, Shantanu Dutta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Exclusive territory distribution arrangements are commonly observed in many markets. Once deployed, such arrangements are often subject to gray market activity, in the form of unauthorized sales which violate assigned restrictions. Interestingly, however, firms frequently choose to tolerate violations, rather than pursuing complete enforcement (i.e., by terminating violators) or abandoning exclusivity entirely. We draw from the literature on transaction cost economics to propose that tolerance of gray market activity is a function of a firm’s ability to detect violations, and of the existence of credible threats and commitments. We also draw on the traditional literature on exclusive territories to suggest that minimizing distributor free-riding on services, which influences the decision to use exclusive territories in the first place, continues to be a concern after deployment. We collect micro-level data and test our predictions through a survey of managers who were responsible for the distribution decisions in their respective companies. Our results suggest that tolerance of violations is influenced both by transaction cost and free-riding considerations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-165
Number of pages9
JournalManagerial and Decision Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1998


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