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When Do Large Buyers Pay Less? Experimental Evidence


  • Bradley J. Ruffle

    () (Department of Economics, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)


The rise in mega-retailers has contributed to a growing literature on buyer power and large-buyer discounts. According to Rotemberg and Saloner (1986) and Snyder (1998), large buyers’ ability to obtain price discounts depends on their relative (rather than absolute) size and the degree of competition between suppliers. I test experimentally comparative statics implications of this theory concerning the number of sellers and the sizes of the buyers in the market. The results track the comparative statics predictions to a surprising extent. Subtle changes in the distribution of buyer sizes or the number of suppliers can create or negate large-buyer discounts. The results highlight the previously unexplored role of the demand structure in determining buyer-size discounts. Furthermore, the experiments establish the presence of small-buyer premia, not anticipated by the theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Bradley J. Ruffle, 2009. "When Do Large Buyers Pay Less? Experimental Evidence," Working Papers 0910, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:bgu:wpaper:0910

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Christopher M. Snyder, 1996. "A Dynamic Theory of Countervailing Power," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 27(4), pages 747-769, Winter.
    2. Huck, Steffen & Normann, Hans-Theo & Oechssler, Jorg, 2004. "Two are few and four are many: number effects in experimental oligopolies," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 53(4), pages 435-446, April.
    3. Robert Feinberg & Christopher Snyder, 2002. "Collusion with secret price cuts: an experimental investigation," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 3(6), pages 1-11.
    4. Klaus Abbink & Jordi Brandts, 2005. "Collusion in Growing and Shrinking Markets: Empirical Evidence from Experimental Duopolies," Working Papers 168, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
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    6. Sara Fisher Ellison & Christopher M. Snyder, 2010. "COUNTERVAILING POWER IN WHOLESALE PHARMACEUTICALS -super-," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 58(1), pages 32-53, March.
    7. Hans-Theo Normann & Bradley J. Ruffle & Christopher M. Snyder, 2007. "Do buyer-size discounts depend on the curvature of the surplus function? Experimental tests of bargaining models," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 38(3), pages 747-767, September.
    8. Bradley J. Ruffle, 2005. "Buyer Countervailing Power: A Survey of Experimental Evidence," Working Papers 0512, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Economics.
    9. Feinberg, Robert M & Husted, Thomas A, 1993. "An Experimental Test of Discount-Rate Effects on Collusive Behaviour in Duopoly Markets," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 153-160, June.
    10. Aoyagi, Masaki & Fréchette, Guillaume, 2009. "Collusion as public monitoring becomes noisy: Experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 144(3), pages 1135-1165, May.
    11. Michihiro Kandori, 1991. "Correlated Demand Shocks and Price Wars During Booms," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 58(1), pages 171-180.
    12. Engle-Warnick, J. & Slonim, Robert L., 2006. "Learning to trust in indefinitely repeated games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 95-114, January.
    13. repec:ebl:ecbull:v:3:y:2002:i:6:p:1-11 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. John A. List, 2009. "The Economics of Open Air Markets," NBER Working Papers 15420, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Snyder, Christopher M., 1998. "Why do larger buyers pay lower prices? Intense supplier competition," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 205-209, February.
    16. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
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    1. repec:eee:gamebe:v:105:y:2017:i:c:p:329-348 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Normann, Hans-Theo & Rösch, Jürgen & Schultz, Luis Manuel, 2015. "Do buyer groups facilitate collusion?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 72-84.
    3. Brokesova, Zuzana & Deck, Cary & Peliova, Jana, 2014. "Experimenting with purchase history based price discrimination," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 229-237.
    4. Ispano, Alessandro & Schwardmann, Peter, 2017. "Cooperating Over Losses and Competing Over Gains: a Social Dilemma Experiment," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 23, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    5. Orland, Andreas & Selten, Reinhard, 2016. "Buyer power in bilateral oligopolies with advance production: Experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 122(C), pages 31-42.
    6. Ispano, Alessandro & Schwardmann, Peter, 2016. "Cooperating over losses and competing over gains: a social dilemma experiment," Discussion Papers in Economics 27576, University of Munich, Department of Economics.

    More about this item


    experimental economics; large-buyer discounts; buyer power; seller competition.;

    JEL classification:

    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D43 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Oligopoly and Other Forms of Market Imperfection


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