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Price Dispersion and Differentiation in Online Travel: An Empirical Investigation

  • Eric K. Clemons

    (Department of Operations and Information Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104)

  • Il-Horn Hann

    (Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213)

  • Lorin M. Hitt

    (Department of Operations and Information Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104)

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    Previous research has examined whether price dispersion exists in theoretically highly efficient Internet markets. However, much of the previous work has been focused on industries with low cost and undifferentiated products. In this paper, we examine the presence of price dispersion and product differentiation using data on the airline ticket offerings of online travel agents (OTAs). We find that different OTAs offer tickets with substantially different prices and characteristics when given the same customer request. Some of this variation appears to be due to product differentiation---different OTAs specialize by systematically offering different trade-offs between ticket price and ticket quality (minimizing the number of connections, matching requested departure and return time). However, even after accounting for differences in ticket quality, ticket prices vary by as much as 18% across OTAs. In addition, OTAs return tickets that are strictly inferior to the ticket offered by another OTA for the same request between 2.2% and 28% of the time. Overall, this suggests the presence of both price dispersion and product differentiation in the online travel market.

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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.48.4.534
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    Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

    Volume (Year): 48 (2002)
    Issue (Month): 4 (April)
    Pages: 534-549

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    Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:48:y:2002:i:4:p:534-549
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    1. Michael Smith & Erik Brynjolfsson, 1999. "Frictionless Commerce? A Comparison of Internet and Conventional Retailers," Computing in Economics and Finance 1999 1022, Society for Computational Economics.
    2. Michael D. Smith & Erik Brynjolfsson, 2001. "Consumer Decision-making at an Internet Shopbot: Brand Still Matters," NBER Chapters, in: E-commerce, pages 541-558 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Severin Borenstein, 1991. "The Dominant-Firm Advantage in Multiproduct Industries: Evidence from the U. S. Airlines," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1237-1266.
    4. J. Yannis Bakos, 1997. "Reducing Buyer Search Costs: Implications for Electronic Marketplaces," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 43(12), pages 1676-1692, December.
    5. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-38, May.
    6. Evans, William N & Kessides, Ioannis N, 1993. "Localized Market Power in the U.S. Airline Industry," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 75(1), pages 66-75, February.
    7. George J. Stigler, 1961. "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 69, pages 213.
    8. Severin Borenstein, 1989. "Hubs and High Fares: Dominance and Market Power in the U.S. Airline Industry," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 20(3), pages 344-365, Autumn.
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