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Consumer search and income inequality

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  • Byrne, David P.
  • Martin, Leslie A.

Abstract

Competition and consumer search costs can lead to price dispersion in an oligopoly. IO research has long identified the existence of search costs and estimated their distribution and is now beginning to study which consumers sit where in the distribution. This paper argues for a view of consumer protection and competition policy that considers distributional outcomes along with efficiency. We discuss the evidence on how consumer search varies over the income distribution and provide a literature review that summarizes research on (i) the search-income gradient; (ii) mechanisms for the gradient; and (iii) how search-based price discrimination can give rise to regressive price dispersion. Through our review, we collect evidence from a wide range of industries that shows that low-income consumers tend not to search. We then draw on research from IO, marketing, finance, urban, and behavioral economics for explanations as to why this pattern persists. Finally, we conclude that IO researchers have much to offer in identifying and quantifying the distributional impacts of market power, thereby contributing to current academic and policy debates on efficiency-equity trade-offs in policy design.

Suggested Citation

  • Byrne, David P. & Martin, Leslie A., 2021. "Consumer search and income inequality," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:indorg:v:79:y:2021:i:c:s0167718721000096
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ijindorg.2021.102716
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    Cited by:

    1. Myśliwski, Mateusz & Rostom, May, 2022. "Value of information, search, and competition in the UK mortgage market," Bank of England working papers 967, Bank of England.
    2. Xu, Jiayi & Zhang, Xiao-Bing & Liu, Yang, 2024. "Asymmetric search behavior for gasoline prices: Evidence from the Chinese gasoline market," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 89(PB), pages 699-712.
    3. Franco Mairuzzo & Peter Ormosi, 2022. "Do the poor pay more for increasing market concentration? A study of retail petroleum," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Competition Policy (CCP) 2021-08, Centre for Competition Policy, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    4. Vickers, John, 2021. "Competition for imperfect consumers," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 79(C).
    5. Ortmann, Andreas & Ryvkin, Dmitry & Wilkening, Tom & Zhang, Jingjing, 2023. "Defaults and cognitive effort," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 212(C), pages 1-19.
    6. Esplin, Ryan & Best, Rohan & Scranton, Jessica & Chai, Andreas, 2022. "Who pays the loyalty tax? The relationship between socioeconomic status and switching in Australia's retail electricity markets," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 164(C).
    7. David P Byrne & Leslie A Martin & Jia Sheen Nah, 2023. "Price Discrimination by Negotiation: a Field Experiment in Retail Electricity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 137(4), pages 2499-2537.
    8. McGowan, Féidhlim & Papadopoulos, Alexandros & Lunn, Pete, 2023. "Who switches and why? A diagnostic survey of retail financial services in Ireland," Papers WP748, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).
    9. David P Byrne & Leslie A Martin & Jia Sheen Nah, 2022. "Price Discrimination by Negotiation: a Field Experiment in Retail Electricity [“Redistribution through Markets,”]," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 137(4), pages 2499-2537.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Consumer search; inertia; income inequality;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D6 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • M37 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Advertising

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