Academic journal article International Journal of Marketing Studies

The Use of Gestalt Approaches for Understanding Adaptive Behaviors in Channels of Distribution

Academic journal article International Journal of Marketing Studies

The Use of Gestalt Approaches for Understanding Adaptive Behaviors in Channels of Distribution

Article excerpt


Several recent studies have focused on the adaptive response of channel members to internal and external environmental changes. This research has sought to explain and predict the manifestation of particular organizational actions in response to environmental demands. The majority of this research has adopted a contingency-based approach. The present paper argues that the use of a Gestalt approach might provide a more thorough understanding of the phenomena being studied. In supporting this thesis, the author will (a) discuss the major weaknesses of the contingency approach, (b) provide evidence supporting the existence and usefulness of Gestalts, and (c) describe the techniques used in identifying channel gestalts.

Keywords: gestalts, adaptive behavior, channels of distribution

1. Introduction

A great deal of effort and research in distribution channels has been given to examining how channel organizations deal with various internal and external environments (cf. Achrol & Stern, 1988; Dwyer & Oh, 1987; Dwyer & Welsh, 1985; Heide & John, 1988, 1990). In this pursuit, many researchers are focusing on how certain variables interact to affect organizational adaptation, a concept known as the contingency approach (cf. Achrol, Reve, & Stern, 1983; Heide & John, 1988; Stern & Reve, 1980).

While the use of contingency theory to explain relationships between environmental, structural, and behavioral (strategic) variables seems useful, there may be problems in the normative and descriptive approaches being adopted in examining such contingent relationships. For example, Heide & John (1988) tested whether or not the positive effects of replaceability on performance were contingent upon the investment levels of certain assets. This research possibly underidentified the actual nomological network involved because of the exclusion of other relevant organizational characteristics from the study (e.g., relational norms, governance structures, power-dependency). Research in organizations has shown that a multiplicity of variables and relationships need to be examined to appropriately characterize organizational adaptation (e.g., Chandler, 1962; Hedberg, Nystrom, & Starbuck, 1976). In sum, it seems that the contingency approach has several flaws, one of which is that its approach is too narrow and limited.

If the above statement is true, it seems that the validity and generalizability of contingency approaches in examining adaptive behaviors may be lacking. The present paper will propose a potentially more robust approach to examining behaviors and relationships in distribution channels, namely that of Gestalt theory. Gestalt theory has been developed as a useful approach in the strategic management area over the last decade (cf. Miller &Friesen, 1980; Miller & Mintzberg, 1984; Miller, 1981, 1986).

It will be argued that rather than focusing on a constricted set of linear relationships between certain contingency variables, researchers should be seeking to identify "configurations" or adaptive patterns that describe the interaction among thee variables (Miller, 1981). As Miller (1981, p.3) states:

"These configurations or patterns are expected to have tightly interdependent and mutually supportive parts, the significance of which can best be understood by making reference to the whole."

Working from this definition, Miller & Friesen (1984) propose that when such a configuration is found to be commonly represented among the involved cases, and is "predictively useful", the result is called a Gestalt. The present paper will discuss Gestalt theory as it has been developed in the management literature, as well as its potential application in the channels context. In this effort, the author will further discuss weaknesses of the contingency approach and outline the rationale for the use of Gestalt theory in distribution channels. Finally, the author will discuss the process of identifying and applying Gestalts in channels of distribution. …

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