What is disintermediation? Here’s what you need to know


Start your company in a few clicks and get ready to charge customers, hire your team, and fundraise.

Learn more 
  1. Introduction
  2. The business impact of disintermediation
  3. The business benefits of disintermediation
  4. How to deal with common disintermediation challenges
    1. Challenge 1: Creating direct sales channels
    2. Challenge 2: Logistics and distribution
    3. Challenge 3: Marketing and customer acquisition costs
    4. Challenge 4: Customer service and support
    5. Challenge 5: Operational complexity
    6. Challenge 6: Competing with established players
  5. Emerging trends in direct customer engagement

Disintermediation removes intermediaries from a supply chain or industry. This term is often used in sectors such as finance, retail, and technology. Disintermediation lets producers or manufacturers sell directly to customers, bypassing traditional distribution channels such as wholesalers, retailers, and brokers. This process can lead to savings for producers and customers by reducing the amount businesses typically pay intermediaries.

In the financial industry, disintermediation could refer to investors directly investing in securities without using banks or brokerage firms. In retail, disintermediation could refer to manufacturers selling their products directly to customers through online platforms rather than through physical stores or third-party vendors.

Technology has facilitated disintermediation by making it easier for producers and customers to connect and do business directly. As a result, affected industries have implemented major changes in how they market, sell, and distribute their products, and total direct-to-consumer (D2C) ecommerce sales in the United States are expected to reach $213 billion in 2024.

Below, we’ll explain the benefits, drawbacks, and implications of disintermediation and related emerging trends.

What’s in this article?

  • The business impact of disintermediation
  • The business benefits of disintermediation
  • How to deal with common disintermediation challenges
  • Emerging trends in direct customer engagement

The business impact of disintermediation

The proliferation of ecommerce platforms, social media, and digital marketing tools has made it easier and more cost-effective for businesses to reach customers directly. Customer expectations have evolved in response: many customers often seek direct relationships with brands because they value the authenticity, transparency, and personalized experiences these interactions provide.

Businesses that engage in disintermediation often overhaul the way they market and sell their products or services—and, sometimes, their entire business operations. The impact of disintermediation varies across industries and market segments, and some businesses will see more benefits than others. Though businesses that offer digital services or niche consumer goods might see their business expand with disintermediation, other business types might benefit more from a hybrid model that maintains some intermediary relationships alongside direct channels.

Disintermediation affects traditional business models in these ways:

  • Sales process: Traditional models often rely on a series of distributors, wholesalers, and retailers to move products from manufacturers to customers. Disintermediation shortens this chain.

  • Value proposition: Businesses must redefine their value propositions to differentiate themselves in a market without intermediaries, shifting their focus to direct relationships, personalized services, and enhanced customer experiences.

  • Pricing: With fewer intermediaries, businesses can offer more competitive pricing, which puts pressure on competitors to adjust their pricing strategies. Disintermediation also lets customers more easily compare prices directly from producers, leading to greater pricing transparency from brands.

  • Customer communication: Businesses gain direct access to their customers, letting them create more targeted and personalized marketing strategies but requiring up-front investment in digital marketing capabilities.

  • Customer data: Direct interactions provide businesses with valuable customer data, which they can use for product development and to improve customer service. However, businesses must also take on new data protection and storage responsibilities.

  • Logistics: Businesses that bypass intermediaries must develop or outsource their logistics and fulfillment capabilities. This can be a major operational shift for businesses that have relied on distributors for these functions.

  • Global reach: Disintermediation can make it easier for businesses to reach global markets without a local physical presence or local intermediaries. For businesses, this can mean new responsibilities regarding international shipping, customs, and local market preferences.

  • Barrier removal: Freed from the need to establish intermediary relationships, newcomers can enter markets more easily, intensifying competition. Increased competition can drive innovation in products, services, and business models and create a further need for continuous adaptation to remain relevant.

Though businesses that engage in disintermediation must adjust their business models accordingly, the greatest impact is on the intermediaries. Disintermediation can force retailers, wholesalers, and brokers to find new ways to add value or to reinvent their business models. As disintermediation grows in popularity, some intermediaries have found new, niche roles where they can add value, such as specialized knowledge, custom services, or logistical capabilities that direct models cannot easily replicate.

The business benefits of disintermediation

Disintermediation can have these benefits for business costs, processes, and relationships:

  • Costs: By removing intermediaries, businesses can reduce the costs associated with distribution channels such as commissions, fees, and markups. This can lead to lower prices for customers and higher margins for producers.

  • Efficiency: Direct interactions with customers can reduce the time it takes for products to move from production to the customer, creating a competitive advantage.

  • Customer relationships: Disintermediation lets businesses build direct relationships with their customers and receive immediate feedback, gaining deeper insights into preferences, behaviors, and needs. This feedback loop can drive improvements in product development, customer service, and marketing strategies.

  • Control: Without intermediaries, businesses maintain full control over their brand’s image, customer interactions, and the overall buying experience. This can enhance brand loyalty and ensure a consistent message and quality across all touchpoints.

  • Agility: Without intermediaries, businesses can be more responsive to market changes and customer trends. They can quickly adjust their strategies, launch products, or enter markets without coordinating across multiple parties.

  • Data ownership and utilization: Owning the customer relationship also means owning the customer data. This access can facilitate analytics, personalization, and targeted marketing, driving engagement and sales.

How to deal with common disintermediation challenges

Disintermediation presents benefits such as cost reduction and direct customer relationships, but it also creates challenges that require planning and investment in technology and infrastructure to overcome.

Challenge 1: Creating direct sales channels

Building a D2C channel often requires up-front investment in technology, logistics, marketing, and customer support systems. The cost and complexity of establishing these capabilities can be prohibitive for some businesses.


  • Ecommerce platforms: Develop or invest in user-friendly ecommerce platforms that can handle increased traffic and transactions.

  • Marketplaces: Consider using existing online marketplaces to gain visibility and access to a broader customer base.

Challenge 2: Logistics and distribution

Handling distribution and fulfillment in-house or through new direct channels can introduce complications, especially for businesses that are unaccustomed to this work. This can include challenges related to inventory management, shipping, returns, and international logistics.


  • Logistics providers: Collaborate with third-party logistics providers who have the expertise and infrastructure to manage complex distribution needs.

  • Logistics technology: Implement advanced logistics technology for inventory management, order fulfillment, and delivery tracking.

Challenge 3: Marketing and customer acquisition costs

Though disintermediation can reduce certain costs, it can also lead to increased customer acquisition costs. Directly reaching and converting customers, especially in a crowded digital space, often requires substantial marketing and advertising expenditures.


  • Content marketing: Develop engaging content that resonates with your target audience, using SEO and social media to enhance visibility and attract organic traffic.

  • Data analytics: Boost conversion rates and reduce acquisition costs by using customer data analytics to tailor marketing efforts and target potential customers.

Challenge 4: Customer service and support

For businesses, taking on the roles traditionally filled by intermediaries means assuming responsibilities for customer service. This can be a substantial operational and financial burden, particularly for small to medium enterprises without the existing infrastructure.


  • CRM systems: Invest in customer relationship management (CRM) systems to manage customer interactions, support, and feedback.

  • Customer service training: Thoroughly train and equip customer service teams to handle inquiries, provide information, and promptly resolve issues.

Challenge 5: Operational complexity

Businesses that move toward disintermediation risk overextending their capabilities, which can lead to compromises in product quality, customer service, or operational efficiency. Balancing operations without diluting core competencies can be a major challenge.


  • Automation: Use automation to simplify operations including order processing and customer service, reducing the manual workload and minimizing errors.

  • Expertise: Consider hiring experts or training staff in areas such as digital marketing, logistics, and data analysis.

Challenge 6: Competing with established players

Intermediaries can provide valuable market exposure by reaching customers through established channels and networks that a business might struggle to access on its own. Losing this visibility can affect brand awareness and sales, particularly for new or niche products.


  • Differentiation: Focus on what makes your products or services unique, whether it’s superior quality or stronger customer service.

  • Brand identity: Develop a strong brand identity. Engage with customers through storytelling and community building.

Evolving digital technology, customer expectations, and marketing strategies have shaped new tactics and methods of direct customer engagement. Below are some popular emerging business practices for connecting with customers.

  • Advanced data analytics and AI: Businesses are using sophisticated data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize communications and individual offers. This can range from personalized email marketing campaigns to dynamic website content tailored to the preferences and behaviors of each visitor.

  • Integration across channels: Customers have come to expect a unified brand experience across all touchpoints, whether online, in app, or in store. Businesses are integrating their marketing, sales, and customer service efforts across channels to deliver on this expectation.

  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR): Businesses are creating immersive AR and VR shopping experiences including virtual try-ons for clothing and accessories and 3D product visualizations in customers’ homes, boosting engagement and reducing the barrier to purchase.

  • D2C expansion: Brands are exploring new D2C channels such as subscription services, branded apps, and social commerce to sell directly to their customers and maintain closer relationships.

  • Influencer collaborations: Brands are increasingly partnering with influencers for authentic endorsements, using their followers for direct customer engagement.

  • Social commerce: Businesses are taking advantage of Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok’s growing usage as shopping channels, letting users discover and purchase products without leaving the app.

  • Value-driven shopping: Customers have indicated a preference for brands that share their values of social responsibility and environmental sustainability. Businesses have started directly communicating their values and practices to customers to influence purchasing decisions.

  • Chatbots and AI-driven support: Businesses are increasingly providing immediate, 24/7 customer service through AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants, and customers have begun to expect instant responses to their inquiries and support issues.

  • Personalized customer journeys: Businesses are offering personalized customer service experiences, using data analytics to anticipate needs and solve problems proactively.

  • Brand storytelling: Businesses are crafting compelling narratives about the brand, its products, and its values to build emotional connections and brand loyalty.

  • Educational content: Businesses are sharing educational and informative content such as how-to guides, webinars, and tutorials to help customers make informed decisions.

  • Transparent data practices: Brands are emphasizing transparent data practices and providing customers with control over their personal information amid growing concerns about data privacy.

  • Quick testing and improvements: Brands are using technology to quickly test, learn, and deploy engagement strategies, adopting a more agile approach to marketing and customer engagement.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

Ready to get started?

Create an account and start accepting payments—no contracts or banking details required. Or, contact us to design a custom package for your business.