Asymmetric Search and Loss Aversion: Choice Experiment on Consumer Willingness to Search in the Gasoline Retail Market
Price search enables consumers to overcome information asymmetries, it can lead to a reduction in price dispersion and it can increase consumer surplus, but search is costly. In this paper, an internet survey is conducted among a random sample of 490 drivers in the State of Ohio to answer the question, when are consumers more likely to search? The internet survey affords us the opportunity to impose exogenous price changes in a random sample of gasoline consumers to examine the decision-making process behind intended search decisions. Results indicate that among the respondents who faced prices below their expected price, only 12% chose to search, whereas 45% searched when prices were above. Results suggest that asymmetric search can be explained by prospect theory, in the sense that consumers evaluate current prices compared to a reference price, and as a consequence they value price increases differently from price decreases. Our findings indicate that in the gasoline retail market, consumers are allowing retailers to extract consumer surplus by exhibiting loss aversion because this behavior deters search when the probability of finding a lower price is highest.
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