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Price discrimination

In: Handbook of Industrial Organization


  • Varian, Hal R.


As we indicated at the beginning of this chapter, price discrimination is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Nearly all firms with market power attempt to engage in some type of price discrimination. Thus, the analysis of the forms that price discrimination can take and the effects of price discrimination on economic welfare are a very important aspect of the study of industrial organization.In this survey we have seen some of the insights offered by the economic theory of price discrimination. However, much work remains to be done. For example, the study of marketing behavior at the retail level is still in its infancy. Retail firms use a variety of marketing devices -- sales, coupons, matching offers, price promotions, and so on -- that apparently enhance sales. The marketing literature has examined individual firm choices of such promotional tools. But what is the ultimate effect of such promotions on the structure and performance of market equilibrium? What kinds of marketing devices serve to enhance economic welfare and what kinds represent deadweight loss?One particularly interesting set of questions in this area that has received little attention concerns the computational costs involved in using complex forms of price discrimination. In the post-deregulation airline industry of the United States, airlines have taken to using very involved pricing schemes. Finding the most inexpensive feasible fight may involve a considerable expenditure of time and effort. What are the welfare consequences of this sort of price discrimination? Do firms appropriately take into account the computational externality imposed on their customers?Even in more prosaic case of public utilities, pricing schedules have become so complex that households often make the "wrong" choice of telephone service or electricity use. Questions of simplicity and ease-of-use have not hitherto played a role in the positive and normative analysis of price discrimination. Perhaps this will serve as a fruitful area of investigation in future studies of price discrimination.

Suggested Citation

  • Varian, Hal R., 1989. "Price discrimination," Handbook of Industrial Organization, in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 10, pages 597-654, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:indchp:1-10

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    JEL classification:

    • L0 - Industrial Organization - - General


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