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Information, Search, and Price Dispersion

  • Michael R. Baye

    (Department of Business Economics and Public Policy, Indiana University Kelley School of Business)

  • John Morgan

    (Haas School of Business and Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley)

  • Patrick Scholten

    (Bentley College)

We provide a unified treatment of alternative models of information acquisition/transmission that have been advanced to rationalize price dispersion in online and offline markets for homogeneous products. These different frameworks -- which include sequential search, fixed sample search, and clearinghouse models -- reveal that reductions in (or the elimination of) consumer search costs need not reduce (or eliminate) price dispersion. Our treatment highlights a "duality" between search-theoretic and clearinghouse models of dispersion, and shows how auction-theoretic tools may be used to simplify (and even generalize) existing theoretical results. We conclude with an overview of the burgeoning empirical literature. The empirical evidence suggests that price dispersion in both online and offline markets is sizeable, pervasive, and persistent and does not purely stem from subtle differences in firms' products or services.

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Paper provided by Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy in its series Working Papers with number 2006-11.

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Date of creation: Dec 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: Forthcoming in the Handbook on Economics and Information Systems
Handle: RePEc:iuk:wpaper:2006-11
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  1. Friberg, Richard & Ganslandt, Mattias & Sandström, Mikael, 2001. "Pricing Strategies in E-Commerce: Bricks vs. Clicks," Working Paper Series 559, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
  2. Erik Brynjolfsson & Michael D. Smith, 2000. "Frictionless Commerce? A Comparison of Internet and Conventional Retailers," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 46(4), pages 563-585, April.
  3. Baye, Michael R. & Kovenock, Dan, 1994. "How to sell a pickup truck : 'Beat-or-pay' advertisements as facilitating devices," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 21-33, March.
  4. Janssen, Maarten C.W. & Moraga-Gonzalez, Jose Luis & Wildenbeest, Matthijs R., 2005. "Truly costly sequential search and oligopolistic pricing," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 23(5-6), pages 451-466, June.
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  6. Eric K. Clemons & Il-Horn Hann & Lorin M. Hitt, 2002. "Price Dispersion and Differentiation in Online Travel: An Empirical Investigation," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 48(4), pages 534-549, April.
  7. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan, 2001. "Information Gatekeepers on the Internet and the Competitiveness of Homogeneous Product Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(3), pages 454-474, June.
  8. Burdett, Kenneth & Judd, Kenneth L, 1983. "Equilibrium Price Dispersion," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(4), pages 955-69, July.
  9. Saul Lach, 2002. "Existence and Persistence of Price Dispersion: an Empirical Analysis," NBER Working Papers 8737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Baye, Michael R. & Kovenock, Dan & de Vries, Casper G., 1992. "It takes two to tango: Equilibria in a model of sales," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 4(4), pages 493-510, October.
  11. Dana, J.D., 1991. "Learning in an Equilibrium Search Model," Papers 37, Stanford - Institute for Thoretical Economics.
  12. Severin Borenstein & Nancy L. Rose, 1991. "Competition and Price Dispersion in the U.S. Airline Industry," NBER Working Papers 3785, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. E. Woodrow Eckard, 2004. "The "Law of One Price" in 1901," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 42(1), pages 101-110, January.
  14. Austan Goolsbee, 2001. "Competition in the Computer Industry: Online Versus Retail," NBER Chapters, in: E-commerce, pages 487-499 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan & Patrick Scholten, 2004. "Price Dispersion In The Small And In The Large: Evidence From An Internet Price Comparison Site," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(4), pages 463-496, December.
  16. Daughety, Andrew F, 1992. "A Model of Search and Shopping by Homogeneous Customers without Price Precommitment by Firms," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(3), pages 455-73, Fall.
  17. Baye, Michael & GATTI, RUPERT J & Kattuman, Paul & Morgan, John, 2004. "Estimating Firm-Level Demand at a Price Comparison Site: Accounting for Shoppers and the Number of Competitors," Competition Policy Center, Working Paper Series qt923692d1, Competition Policy Center, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  18. Austan Goolsbee & Judith Chevalier, 2002. "Measuring Prices and Price Competition Online: Amazon and Barnes and Noble," NBER Working Papers 9085, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan, 2004. "Price Dispersion in the Lab and on the Internet: Theory and Evidence," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 35(3), pages 448-466, Autumn.
  20. Mark J. Roberts & Dylan Supina, 1997. "Output Price and Markup Dispersion in Micro Data: The Roles of Producer Heterogeneity and Noise," NBER Working Papers 6075, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. Kathy Baylis & Jeffrey Perloff, 2002. "Price Dispersion on the Internet: Good Firms and Bad Firms," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer, vol. 21(3), pages 305-324, November.
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  23. Maria Arbatskaya & Michael R. Baye, 2004. "Are Prices ‘Sticky’ Online? Market Structure Effects and Asymmetric Responses to Cost Shocks in Online Mortgage Markets," Working Papers 2004-01, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
  24. Benabou, Roland & Gertner, Robert, 1993. "Search with Learning from Prices: Does Increased Inflationary Uncertainty Lead to Higher Markups?," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(1), pages 69-94, January.
  25. Michael A. Arnold & Christine Saliba, 2003. "Price Dispersion in Online Markets: The Case of College Textbooks," Working Papers 03-02, University of Delaware, Department of Economics.
  26. Ronald Johnson, 2002. "Search Costs, Lags and Prices at the Pump," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer, vol. 20(1), pages 33-50, February.
  27. Michael R. Baye & John Morgan & Patrick Scholten, 2004. "Temporal Price Dispersion: Evidence from an Online Consumer Electronics Market," Working Papers 2004-04, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
  28. Axel, Bo, 1977. " Search Market Equilibrium," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 79(1), pages 20-40.
  29. Maarten C. W. Janssen & José Luis Moraga-González, 2004. "Strategic Pricing, Consumer Search and the Number of Firms," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 71(4), pages 1089-1118, October.
  30. Oecd, 1998. "Electronic Commerce: Prices and Consumer Issues for Three Products: Books, Compact Discs and Software," OECD Digital Economy Papers 32, OECD Publishing.
  31. J. Yannis Bakos, 1997. "Reducing Buyer Search Costs: Implications for Electronic Marketplaces," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 43(12), pages 1676-1692, December.
  32. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2004. "Search, Obfuscation, and Price Elasticities on the Internet," NBER Working Papers 10570, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  33. Brynjolfsson, Erik & Dick, Astrid Andrea & Smith, Michael D., 2004. "Search and Product Differentiation at an Internet Shopbot," Working papers 4441-03, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
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