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Do people think about absolute or relative price differences when choosing between substitute goods?


  • Azar, Ofer H.


The article presents experimental evidence that shows that people often consider relative price differences in addition to absolute differences when choosing between substitute goods. Because the choice between substitute goods is a very common one, this is an important finding. The experiment uses scenarios in various consumption categories: hotel rooms, flights, and books. Subjects were either students or participants in an economics conference. The data allow to reject the hypothesis that people think only about relative price differences in favor of the hypothesis that people think about both relative and absolute price differences. Whether the price given to the subjects is that of the high-quality good or of the low-quality good makes a large difference, a result that is related to the endowment effect and the status quo bias. Implications of the results for business strategy and other areas are also discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Azar, Ofer H., 2011. "Do people think about absolute or relative price differences when choosing between substitute goods?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 450-457, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:32:y:2011:i:3:p:450-457

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
    2. Knetsch, Jack L, 1989. "The Endowment Effect and Evidence of Nonreversible Indifference Curves," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1277-1284, December.
    3. Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman, 1991. "Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice: A Reference-Dependent Model," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1039-1061.
    4. Azar, Ofer H., 2008. "The effect of relative thinking on firm strategy and market outcomes: A location differentiation model with endogenous transportation costs," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 684-697, November.
    5. Azar, Ofer H., 2007. "Relative thinking theory," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-14, February.
    6. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-1348, December.
    7. Daniel Kahneman & Jack L. Knetsch & Richard H. Thaler, 1991. "Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 193-206, Winter.
    8. Dan Ariely & Uri Gneezy & George Loewenstein & Nina Mazar, 2009. "Large Stakes and Big Mistakes," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(2), pages 451-469.
    9. Thaler, Richard, 1980. "Toward a positive theory of consumer choice," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 39-60, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tsui, Hsiao-Chien, 2012. "Advertising, quality, and willingness-to-pay: Experimental examination of signaling theory," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 1193-1203.
    2. Lynn, Michael & Jabbour, Patrick & Kim, Woo Gon, 2012. "Who uses tips as a reward for service and when? An examination of potential moderators of the service–tipping relationship," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 90-103.
    3. Fabrizi, Simona & Lippert, Steffen & Puppe, Clemens & Rosenkranz, Stephanie, 2016. "Manufacturer suggested retail prices, loss aversion and competition," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 141-153.
    4. Azar, Ofer H., 2014. "Optimal strategy of multi-product retailers with relative thinking and reference prices," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 130-140.
    5. Nash, Jane Gradwohl & Rosenthal, Robert A., 2014. "An investigation of the endowment effect in the context of a college housing lottery," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 74-82.
    6. Azar, Ofer H., 2013. "Competitive strategy when consumers are affected by reference prices," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 327-340.
    7. Lembregts, Christophe & Pandelaere, Mario, 2014. ""A 20% income increase for everyone?": The effect of relative increases in income on perceived income inequality," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 37-47.
    8. Benjamin Bachi, 2016. "Competition with price similarities," Economic Theory Bulletin, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 4(2), pages 277-290, October.


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