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Heuristic Thinking and Limited Attention in the Car Market

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  • Nicola Lacetera
  • Devin G. Pope
  • Justin R. Sydnor

Abstract

Can heuristic information processing affect important product markets? We explore whether the tendency to focus on the left-most digit of a number affects how used car buyers incorporate odometer values in their purchase decisions. Analyzing over 22 million wholesale used-car transactions, we find substantial evidence of this left-digit bias; there are large and discontinuous drops in sale prices at 10,000-mile thresholds in odometer mileage, along with smaller drops at 1,000-mile thresholds. We obtain estimates for the inattention parameter in a simple model of this left-digit bias. We also investigate whether this heuristic behavior is primarily attributable to the final used-car customers or the used-car salesmen who buy cars in the wholesale market. The evidence is most consistent with partial inattention by final customers. We discuss the significance of these results for the literature on inattention and point to other market settings where this type of heuristic thinking may be important. Our results suggest that information-processing heuristics may be important even in markets with large stakes and where information is easy to observe.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17030.

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Date of creation: May 2011
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17030

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  1. When driving a mile can cost you $448
    by Brad Plumer in Ezra Klein's Wonkblog on 2013-02-25 21:03:00
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Cited by:
  1. Lin, C.-Y. Cynthia & Muehlegger, Erich J., 2013. "On the use of heuristics to approximate competitors’ private information," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 10-23.
  2. Florian Englmaier & Andreas Roider & Uwe Sunde, 2012. "The Role of Salience in Performance Schemes: Evidence from a Field Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 3771, CESifo Group Munich.
  3. Asmus Leth Olsen, 2013. "Leftmost-digit-bias in an enumerated public sector? An experiment on citizens' judgment of performance information," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 8(3), pages 365-371, May.
  4. Victor Stango & Jonathan Zinman, 2011. "Limited and varying consumer attention: evidence from shocks to the salience of bank overdraft fees," Working Papers 11-17, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  5. Gillingham, Kenneth & Palmer, Karen, 2013. "Bridging the Energy Efficiency Gap: Policy Insights from Economic Theory and Empirical Evidence," Discussion Papers dp-13-02-rev, Resources For the Future.
  6. Engström, Per & Forsell, Eskil, 2013. "Demand effects of consumers’ stated and revealed preferences," Working Paper Series 2013:6, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.

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