IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/hal/journl/hal-02902690.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Strategic Obfuscation and Retail Pricing

Author

Listed:
  • Zohra Bouamra

    (TSE - Toulouse School of Economics - UT1 - Université Toulouse 1 Capitole - Université Fédérale Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement)

  • Timothy Richards
  • Gordon Klein
  • Céline Bonnet

    (GREMAQ - Groupe de recherche en économie mathématique et quantitative - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRA - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique - UT1 - Université Toulouse 1 Capitole - Université Fédérale Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées)

  • Zohra Bouamra-Mechemache

    (TSE - Toulouse School of Economics - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRA - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - UT1 - Université Toulouse 1 Capitole - Université Fédérale Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées)

Abstract

Consumer-product manufacturers—and retailers that sell their products—often sell slightly differentiated items for reasons other than appealing to heterogeneous tastes—different sizes of a popular brand, or different flavors in a common product line for instance. We argue that this practice is a form of strategic obfuscation, which is intended to make price-comparison more difficult, and thereby raise margins on non-comparable products. We test our hypothesis with the use of examples from consumer-packaged good categories in German and French retail scanner data. We find that—after controlling for other explanations for how margins can vary with package size and type—we cannot rule out strategic obfuscation as a feature of our retail sales data.

Suggested Citation

  • Zohra Bouamra & Timothy Richards & Gordon Klein & Céline Bonnet & Zohra Bouamra-Mechemache, 2020. "Strategic Obfuscation and Retail Pricing," Post-Print hal-02902690, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:journl:hal-02902690
    DOI: 10.1007/s11151-019-09744-z
    Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://hal.inrae.fr/hal-02902690
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    To our knowledge, this item is not available for download. To find whether it is available, there are three options:
    1. Check below whether another version of this item is available online.
    2. Check on the provider's web page whether it is in fact available.
    3. Perform a search for a similarly titled item that would be available.

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Stéphane Turolla, 2016. "Spatial Competition in the French Supermarket Industry," Annals of Economics and Statistics, GENES, issue 121-122, pages 213-259.
    2. Persson, Petra, 2018. "Attention manipulation and information overload," Behavioural Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(1), pages 78-106, May.
    3. Ran Spiegler, 2016. "Choice Complexity and Market Competition," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 8(1), pages 1-25, October.
    4. Stigler, George J., 2011. "Economics of Information," Economic Policy, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, vol. 5, pages 35-49.
    5. Çakır, Metin & Balagtas, Joseph V., 2014. "Consumer Response to Package Downsizing: Evidence from the Chicago Ice Cream Market," Journal of Retailing, Elsevier, vol. 90(1), pages 1-12.
    6. Sergei Koulayev, 2014. "Search for differentiated products: identification and estimation," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 45(3), pages 553-575, September.
    7. Nitin Mehta & Surendra Rajiv & Kannan Srinivasan, 2003. "Price Uncertainty and Consumer Search: A Structural Model of Consideration Set Formation," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 22(1), pages 58-84, June.
    8. Ioana Chioveanu & Jidong Zhou, 2013. "Price Competition with Consumer Confusion," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 59(11), pages 2450-2469, November.
    9. Timothy J Richards & Celine Bonnet & Zohra Bouamra-Mechemache, 2018. "Complementarity and bargaining power," European Review of Agricultural Economics, Foundation for the European Review of Agricultural Economics, vol. 45(3), pages 297-331.
    10. Michael Grubb, 2015. "Behavioral Consumers in Industrial Organization: An Overview," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 47(3), pages 247-258, November.
    11. Hausman, Jerry, 2015. "Specification tests in econometrics," Applied Econometrics, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), vol. 38(2), pages 112-134.
    12. Yonezawa, Koichi & Richards, Timothy J., 2016. "Competitive Package Size Decisions," Journal of Retailing, Elsevier, vol. 92(4), pages 445-469.
    13. Michael D. Grubb, 2015. "Behavioral Consumers in Industrial Organization," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 879, Boston College Department of Economics.
    14. Michael Grubb, 2015. "Failing to Choose the Best Price: Theory, Evidence, and Policy," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 47(3), pages 303-340, November.
    15. Gu, Yiquan & Wenzel, Tobias, 2015. "Putting on a tight leash and levelling playing field: An experiment in strategic obfuscation and consumer protection," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 120-128.
    16. Mark Armstrong, 2015. "Search and Ripoff Externalities," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 47(3), pages 273-302, November.
    17. Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, 2018. "Shrouded attributes, consumer myopia and information suppression in competitive markets," Chapters, in: Victor J. Tremblay & Elizabeth Schroeder & Carol Horton Tremblay (ed.), Handbook of Behavioral Industrial Organization, chapter 3, pages 40-74, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    18. Brian McManus, 2007. "Nonlinear pricing in an oligopoly market: the case of specialty coffee," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 38(2), pages 512-532, June.
    19. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock, 1997. "Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(3), pages 557-586, May.
    20. Babur De Los Santos & Ali Hortacsu & Matthijs R. Wildenbeest, 2012. "Testing Models of Consumer Search Using Data on Web Browsing and Purchasing Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(6), pages 2955-2980, October.
    21. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2009. "Search, Obfuscation, and Price Elasticities on the Internet," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(2), pages 427-452, March.
    22. Chris M. Wilson & Catherine Waddams Price, 2010. "Do consumers switch to the best supplier?," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 62(4), pages 647-668, October.
    23. d'Aspremont, C & Gabszewicz, Jean Jaskold & Thisse, J-F, 1979. "On Hotelling's "Stability in Competition"," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(5), pages 1145-1150, September.
    24. Timothy J. Richards & Stephen F. Hamilton & Koichi Yonezawa, 2017. "Variety and the Cost of Search in Supermarket Retailing," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 50(3), pages 263-285, May.
    25. Céline Bonnet & Pierre Dubois, 2010. "Inference on vertical contracts between manufacturers and retailers allowing for nonlinear pricing and resale price maintenance," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 41(1), pages 139-164, March.
    26. Michele Piccione & Ran Spiegler, 2012. "Price Competition Under Limited Comparability," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(1), pages 97-135.
    27. Train,Kenneth E., 2009. "Discrete Choice Methods with Simulation," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521747387.
    28. Cohen, Andrew, 2008. "Package size and price discrimination in the paper towel market," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 502-516, March.
    29. Yiquan Gu & Tobias Wenzel, 2014. "Strategic Obfuscation and Consumer Protection Policy," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(4), pages 632-660, December.
    30. 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.
    31. Carlin, Bruce I., 2009. "Strategic price complexity in retail financial markets," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(3), pages 278-287, March.
    32. Susan E. Woodward & Robert E. Hall, 2012. "Diagnosing Consumer Confusion and Sub-optimal Shopping Effort: Theory and Mortgage-Market Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(7), pages 3249-3276, December.
    33. Sofia Berto Villas-Boas, 2007. "Vertical Relationships between Manufacturers and Retailers: Inference with Limited Data," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 74(2), pages 625-652.
    34. Diamond, Peter A., 1971. "A model of price adjustment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 156-168, June.
    35. KalaycI, Kenan & Potters, Jan, 2011. "Buyer confusion and market prices," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 14-22, January.
    36. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2005. "Lessons About Markets from the Internet," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 139-158, Spring.
    37. Elisabeth Honka, 2014. "Quantifying search and switching costs in the US auto insurance industry," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 45(4), pages 847-884, December.
    38. Arne Risa Hole, 2007. "Fitting mixed logit models by using maximum simulated likelihood," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 7(3), pages 388-401, September.
    39. Céline Bonnet & Zohra Bouamra-Mechemache, 2016. "Organic Label, Bargaining Power, and Profit-sharing in the French Fluid Milk Market," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 98(1), pages 113-133.
    40. Wilson, Chris M., 2010. "Ordered search and equilibrium obfuscation," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 28(5), pages 496-506, September.
    41. Spiegler, Ran, 2006. "Competition over agents with boundedly rational expectations," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 1(2), pages 207-231, June.
    42. Bhat, Chandra R., 2003. "Simulation estimation of mixed discrete choice models using randomized and scrambled Halton sequences," Transportation Research Part B: Methodological, Elsevier, vol. 37(9), pages 837-855, November.
    43. Timothy J. Richards & Stephen F. Hamilton, 2015. "Variety Pass-Through: An Examination of the Ready-to-Eat Breakfast Cereal Market," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 97(1), pages 166-180, March.
    44. Stefania Sitzia & Daniel Zizzo, 2011. "Does product complexity matter for competition in experimental retail markets?," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 70(1), pages 65-82, January.
    45. Glenn Ellison & Alexander Wolitzky, 2012. "A search cost model of obfuscation," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 43(3), pages 417-441, September.
    46. Bonnet, Céline & Réquillart, Vincent, 2013. "Tax incidence with strategic firms in the soft drink market," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 77-88.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Stephen Martin, 2018. "Behavioral antitrust," Chapters, in: Victor J. Tremblay & Elizabeth Schroeder & Carol Horton Tremblay (ed.), Handbook of Behavioral Industrial Organization, chapter 15, pages 404-454, Edward Elgar Publishing.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Michael Grubb, 2015. "Failing to Choose the Best Price: Theory, Evidence, and Policy," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 47(3), pages 303-340, November.
    2. Yiquan Gu & Tobias Wenzel, 2017. "Consumer confusion, obfuscation and price regulation," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 64(2), pages 169-190, May.
    3. Gu, Yiquan & Wenzel, Tobias, 2020. "Curbing obfuscation: Empower consumers or regulate firms?," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 70(C).
    4. Øystein Foros & Mai Nguyen-Ones & Frode Steen, 2021. "The Effects of a Day off from Retail Price Competition: Evidence on Consumer Behavior and Firm Performance in Gasoline Retailing," International Journal of the Economics of Business, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 28(1), pages 49-87, January.
    5. Ernst Fehr & Keyu Wu, 2021. "Obfuscation in competitive markets," ECON - Working Papers 391, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    6. Chioveanu, Ioana, 2019. "Prominence, complexity, and pricing," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 551-582.
    7. Paolo Crosetto & Alexia Gaudeul, 2014. "Choosing whether to compete: Price and format competition with consumer confusion," Jena Economic Research Papers 2014-026, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    8. Paolo Crosetto & Alexia Gaudeul, 2017. "Choosing not to compete: Can firms maintain high prices by confusing consumers?," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 26(4), pages 897-922, December.
    9. Chioveanu, Ioana, 2020. "A more general model of price complexity," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 69(C).
    10. Janssen, Aljoscha & Kasinger, Johannes, 2021. "Obfuscation and rational inattention in digitalized markets," SAFE Working Paper Series 306, Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE.
    11. Janssen, Aljoscha & Kasinger, Johannes, 2021. "Obfuscation and Rational Inattention in Digitalized Markets," Working Paper Series 1379, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    12. Chia-Ling Hsu & Rafael Matta & Sergey V. Popov & Takeharu Sogo, 2017. "Optimal Product Placement," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 51(1), pages 127-145, August.
    13. Pires, Tiago, 2018. "Measuring the effects of search costs on equilibrium prices and profits," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 179-205.
    14. Stephen McDonald & Colin Wren, 2018. "Multibrand pricing as a strategy for consumer search obfuscation in online markets," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(2), pages 171-187, June.
    15. Wenzel, Tobias & Normann, Hans-Theo, 2015. "Shrouding add-on information: an experimental study," VfS Annual Conference 2015 (Muenster): Economic Development - Theory and Policy 113149, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    16. Bruce I. Carlin & Florian Ederer, 2019. "Search Fatigue," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 54(3), pages 485-508, May.
    17. Michael Grubb, 2015. "Behavioral Consumers in Industrial Organization: An Overview," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 47(3), pages 247-258, November.
    18. Ioana Chioveanu & Jidong Zhou, 2013. "Price Competition with Consumer Confusion," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 59(11), pages 2450-2469, November.
    19. Yiquan Gu & Tobias Wenzel, 2014. "Strategic Obfuscation and Consumer Protection Policy," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(4), pages 632-660, December.
    20. Yonezawa, Koichi & Richards, Timothy J., 2016. "Competitive Package Size Decisions," Journal of Retailing, Elsevier, vol. 92(4), pages 445-469.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Price discrimination; Retail pricing; Search model; strategic obfuscation; Differentiation;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D43 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Oligopoly and Other Forms of Market Imperfection
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets
    • M31 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Marketing

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hal:journl:hal-02902690. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/ .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: CCSD (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/ .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.