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Penny Auctions are Unpredictable

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  • Toomas Hinnosaar

Abstract

I study an auction format called penny auctions. In these auctions, every bid increases the price by a small amount, but it is costly to place a bid. The auction ends if more than some predetermined amount of time has passed since the last bid. Outcomes of real penny auctions are surprising: even selling cash can give the seller an order of magnitude higher or lower revenue than the nominal value. Sometimes the winner of the auction pays very little compared to many of the losers at the same auction. The unexpected outcomes have led to the accusations that the penny auction sites are either scams or gambling or both. I propose a tractable model of penny auctions and show that the high variance of outcomes is a property of the auction format. Even absent of any randomization, the equilibria in penny auctions are close to lotteries from the buyers’ perspective.

Suggested Citation

  • Toomas Hinnosaar, 2013. "Penny Auctions are Unpredictable," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 305, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
  • Handle: RePEc:cca:wpaper:305
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    File URL: http://www.carloalberto.org/assets/working-papers/no.305.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gallice Andrea, 2016. "Price Reveal Auctions," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, pages 485-514.
    2. Brennan C. Platt & Joseph Price & Henry Tappen, 2010. "Pay-to-Bid Auctions," NBER Working Papers 15695, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Di Gaetano, Luigi, 2011. "A model of descending auction with hidden starting price and endogenous price decrease," MPRA Paper 35773, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Dan Kovenock & Michael R. Baye & Casper G. de Vries, 1996. "The all-pay auction with complete information (*)," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 8(2), pages 291-305.
    5. Jacob K. Goeree & Emiel Maasland & Sander Onderstal & John L. Turner, 2005. "How (Not) to Raise Money," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(4), pages 897-926, August.
    6. Robert Östling & Joseph Tao-yi Wang & Eileen Y. Chou & Colin F. Camerer, 2011. "Testing Game Theory in the Field: Swedish LUPI Lottery Games," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, pages 1-33.
    7. Rapoport, Amnon & Otsubo, Hironori & Kim, Bora & Stein, William E., 2007. "Unique bid auctions: Equilibrium solutions and experimental evidence," MPRA Paper 4185, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 17 Jul 2007.
    8. Raviv, Yaron & Virag, Gabor, 2009. "Gambling by auctions," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 369-378, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ødegaard, Fredrik & Anderson, Chris K., 2014. "All-pay auctions with pre- and post-bidding options," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 239(2), pages 579-592.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    penny auction; Internet auctions; bid fees; gambling;

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D44 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Auctions
    • C73 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Stochastic and Dynamic Games; Evolutionary Games

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