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Competition and Consumer Confusion

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Listed:
  • David Laibson
  • Xavier Gabaix

Abstract

In many markets consumer biases do not affect prices, since competition forces firms to price their products close to marginal cost; competition protects the consumer. We show that noisy consumer product evaluations undermine the force of competition, enabling firms to charge high mark-ups in equilibrium, even in highly competitive environments. We analyze markets in which rational firms sell goods to consumers who evaluate products with noise. Using results from extreme value theory, we show that competition generally has a remarkably weak impact on markups. For normally distributed evaluation noise, we show that markups are proportional to the inverse of the square root of log(n), where n is the number of competitors. In this setting, a highly competitive industry with n=1,000,000 firms will retain 1/3 of the markup of a highly concentrated industry with only n=10 competitors. When we make noise an endogenous variable, we find that firms choose excess noise by making their products inefficiently confusing. Moreover, competition exacerbates this effect: a higher degree of competition causes firms to choose even more excess complexity. Firms with lower intrinsic quality and higher production costs choose the most excess complexity. Educating consumers to reduce their evaluation noise would generate large welfare gains. But the gains accrue mostly to the consumer, so firms can't profitably educate consumers and steal them away from competitors. Finally, we introduce an econometric framework that measures bounded rationality and confusion in the marketplace

Suggested Citation

  • David Laibson & Xavier Gabaix, 2004. "Competition and Consumer Confusion," Econometric Society 2004 North American Summer Meetings 663, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:nasm04:663
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Ali Hortacsu & Chad Syverson, 2003. "Product Differentiation, Search Costs, and Competition in the Mutual Fund Industry: A Case Study of the S&P 500 Index Funds," NBER Working Papers 9728, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Anderson, Simon P & de Palma, Andre & Nesterov, Yurii, 1995. "Oligopolistic Competition and the Optimal Provision of Products," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(6), pages 1281-1301, November.
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    5. Rosenthal, Robert W, 1980. "A Model in Which an Increase in the Number of Sellers Leads to a Higher Price," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(6), pages 1575-1579, September.
    6. Ali Hortaçsu & Chad Syverson, 2004. "Product Differentiation, Search Costs, and Competition in the Mutual Fund Industry: A Case Study of S&P 500 Index Funds," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(2), pages 403-456.
    7. Kenneth L. Judd & Michael H. Riordan, 1994. "Price and Quality in a New Product Monopoly," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 61(4), pages 773-789.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Ioana Chioveanu & Jidong Zhou, 2013. "Price Competition with Consumer Confusion," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 59(11), pages 2450-2469, November.
    2. Paul Heidhues & Botond Köszegi, 2004. "The Impact of Consumer Loss Aversion on Pricing," CIG Working Papers SP II 2004-17, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG).
    3. Bogumił Kamiński & Maciej Łatek, 2016. "On asymmetric Bertrand duopoly with price uncertainty," International Journal of Economic Theory, The International Society for Economic Theory, vol. 12(4), pages 303-316, December.
    4. Moisés J. Schwartz & Enrique E. Domínguez & Roberto Calderón-Colín, 2008. "Consumer Confusion; The Choice of AFORE," IMF Working Papers 08/177, International Monetary Fund.
    5. Chakraborty, Ratula & Dobson, Paul W. & Seaton, Jonathan S. & Waterson, Michael, 2015. "Pricing in inflationary times: The penny drops," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 71-86.
    6. Carvalho, M., 2009. "Price Recall, Bertrand Paradox and Price Dispersion With Elastic Demand," Discussion Paper 2009-69, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    7. Carvalho, M., 2011. "Essays in behavioral microeconomic theory," Other publications TiSEM 97fbb10e-5f12-420b-b8c4-e, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    8. Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2006. "Shrouded Attributes, Consumer Myopia, and Information Suppression in Competitive Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 505-540.
    9. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2009. "Search, Obfuscation, and Price Elasticities on the Internet," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(2), pages 427-452, March.
    10. Leeat Yariv & David Laibson, 2004. "Safety in Markets: An Impossibility Theorem for Dutch Books," 2004 Meeting Papers 867, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    11. Kaminski, Bogumil & Latek, Maciej, 2012. "A Simple Model of Bertrand Duopoly with Noisy Prices," MPRA Paper 41333, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. Kenan Kalaycı, 2016. "Confusopoly: competition and obfuscation in markets," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(2), pages 299-316, June.
    13. Hasan, Syed Akif & Subhani, Muhammad Imtiaz & Osman, Ms. Amber & Mehar, Ayub, 2012. "Pricing behavior of firms when consumers have an Imperfect Recall," MPRA Paper 35682, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    bounded rationality; complexity; confusion; extreme value theory; discrete choice; profit; behavioral economics; behavioral industrial organization; mutual fund; industry; consumer protection;

    JEL classification:

    • D00 - Microeconomics - - General - - - General
    • D80 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - General
    • L00 - Industrial Organization - - General - - - General

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