Backward Chaining: Moving Upward The Supply Chain

Backward chaining, also called backward integration, describes a process where a company expands to fulfill roles previously held by other businesses further up the supply chain. It is a form of vertical integration where a company owns or controls its suppliers, distributors, or retail locations.

Understanding backward chaining

Supply chains start with the sourcing of raw materials. These materials are then delivered to a warehouse or factory and then into stores for purchase by consumers. 

The supply of raw materials is sometimes unpredictable and in short supply. As a result, these resources are highly prized and there is much competition among organizations in trying to secure them. Businesses use backward chaining to shore up these resources for themselves, eliminating all competition in the process. 

Backward chaining is also a highly effective competitive strategy. With more control over its supply chain, a business decreases costs and eliminates potential supply chain pressures.


  • Efficiency. With greater control, businesses can streamline every aspect of the supply chain to suit their needs and preferences. The efficiency of backward chaining might reduce transportation costs and improve profit margins. In a retail context, a business with total control over its supply chain is better able to stand behind the availability of its products.
  • Reduced costs. Traditional supply chains consist of one or more middlemen who charge a mark-up for their services. With the middleman removed, acquiring raw materials becomes cheaper and these savings can be passed to the consumer.
  • Intellectual property acquisition. For example, backward chaining in the technology industry might see a business gain exclusive rights to trademarks, patents, and other proprietary information owned by their former suppliers.


  • Cost. Backward chaining requires a substantial investment that not all businesses will be able to absorb.
  • Reduced economies of scale. Normally, a supplier who supplies multiple businesses may pass on savings resulting from economies of scale. Since backward chaining reduces the number of individual units being produced, the company acquiring the supplier might face higher production costs.
  • Manageability. Companies that acquire entire supply chains might become large and more troublesome to manage. Spread so widely, there core strengths and values may also become diluted.

Examples of backward chaining

organization" itemid="">Netflix started out as a DVD rental company with a focus on television and film. Eventually, the company employed backward chaining to acquire the rights to start making content themselves.

Ford Motor Company originally sourced key raw materials such as rubber, glass, and metal from suppliers. In order to protect its supply, Ford created several subsidiaries to control the supply of these materials, guaranteeing availability, and increasing quality.

Apple is also a proponent of backward chaining. organization" itemid="">Apple software is installed on electronic devices and operating systems that are owned by the company. Hardware and manufacturing facilities are also under-owned by the tech giant.

Key takeaways:

  • Backward chaining is the process of a company acquiring other companies further up the supply chain, ostensibly to secure raw materials.
  • Backward chaining is an effective competitive strategy because it increases efficiency and reduces costs. However, it does require large amounts of capital and has the potential to dilute a company’s brand.
  • Backward chaining is common to many of the world’s largest and most successful companies. 

Connected Business Frameworks

A classic supply chain moves from upstream to downstream, where the raw material is transformed into products, moved through logistics and distributed to final customers. A data supply chain moves in the opposite direction. The raw data is “sourced” from the customer/user. As it moves downstream, it gets processed and refined by proprietary algorithms and stored in data centers.
The bullwhip effect describes the increasing fluctuations in inventory in response to changing consumer demand as one moves up the supply chain. Observing, analyzing, and understanding how the bullwhip effect influences the whole supply chain can unlock important insights into various parts of it.
The supply chain is the set of steps between the sourcing, manufacturing, distribution of a product up to the steps it takes to reach the final customer. It’s the set of step it takes to bring a product from raw material (for physical products) to final customers and how companies manage those processes.
In a data supply chain the closer the data to the customer the more we’re moving downstream. For instance, when Google produced its own physical devices. While it moved upstream the physical supply chain (it became a manufacturer) it moved downstream the data supply chain as it got closer to consumers using those devices, so it could gather data directly from the market, without intermediaries.
Last-mile delivery consists of the set of activities in a supply chain that will bring the service and product to the final customer. The name “last mile” derives from the fact that indeed this usually refers to the final part of the supply chain journey, and yet this is extremely important, as it’s the most exposed, consumer-facing part.
Backward chaining, also called backward integration, describes a process where a company expands to fulfill roles previously held by other businesses further up the supply chain. It is a form of vertical integration where a company owns or controls its suppliers, distributors, or retail locations.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"