Read the working paper
INSEAD Working Paper 2015/33/TOM revised version of 2014/03/TOM
Making long-term commitments to exclusive suppliers, or relational sourcing, is critical in industries where quality includes social, ethical, and technical elements concerning which contractual terms would be difficult to write and enforce. This study identifies supplier network topologies that best facilitate such relational sourcing. We consider a brand-owning firm that sources in an ongoing fashion from a general multi-tier network of idiosyncratic suppliers. Alternate network designs are compared in terms of three defining structural properties: network scope, the number of suppliers at each tier in the network; degree of control/delegation, the number of tiers in the network; and network connectivity, the connections between firms located at different tiers. Our analysis reveals that neither network connectivity nor the distribution of costs among suppliers affects the ability of relational sourcing to ensure compliance. Networks characterized by more delegation or less scope benefit the most from relational sourcing, yet such networks often feature more exploitation opportunities which work against relational sourcing. We show that, all else equal, delegation is better than control for products with higher margins, greater sourcing stability, or lower costs of noncompliant quality. Numerical analysis reveals that low-scope networks, too, are preferable for higher-margin products with greater sourcing stability; however, low-scope networks are preferred at higher costs of noncompliant quality. These results are robust to alternate information environments and equilibrium concepts.