Organizational structure and gray markets

Romana L. Autrey, Francesco Bova, David A. Soberman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conventional wisdom suggests that when firms face a negative externality like gray marketing (i.e., the selling of branded goods outside of the manufacturer’s authorized channels), an effective strategy to reduce the negative impact is to centralize decision making. Nevertheless, in industries with significant gray marketing, we observe many firms with decentralized decision making. Our study assesses whether decentralized decision making can be optimal when a manufacturer faces gray market distribution. We consider a market where a focal firm competes with an existing competitor that produces a differentiated product and a gray marketer that sources an identical product from a lower-priced foreign market. We find that decentralization is optimal under quantity-based competition, provided the gray market is relatively uncompetitive and the level of competitive intensity between the focal firm and the competitor is high. Decentralization leads a firm to make aggressive production decisions, which leads to lower prices, yet it also leads to higher market share for the firm compared to centralization. When the level of competitive intensity between a firm and its competitor is high, the gain in market share more than offsets the loss due to lower prices. As a result, the focal firm is better off decentralizing its operations independent of (a) whether the competitor operates in the foreign market, and (b) the competitor’s organizational structure. This finding contradicts the belief that centralized decision making is always optimal when authorized manufacturers attempt to limit the negative impact of gray markets. The findings also provide insight to understand why firms might employ decentralized decision making in industries where gray markets are active.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)849-870
Number of pages22
JournalMarketing Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision rights
  • Diversion
  • Foreign market entry
  • Gray markets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Marketing


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