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Persistent Price Dispersion in Online Markets

  • 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)

Using data from one of the Internet’s leading price comparison sites for consumer electronics products, we present evidence for the persistence of price dispersion for 36 homogeneous products. The markets for these products are “thick” with an average of over 20 firms selling each product. We show that prices do not converge to the “law of one price” even after an 18 month period. This finding is robust to controls for differences in shipping charges and inventories. Further, we show that product life cycle effects lead to changes in the number of competing firms and the range of price dispersion consistent with the theoretical predictions of the Varian (1980) model. The average number of competing firms declines from about 28 to 10 during the final five months of our dataset. Over this same period, the average range in prices decreases from about 75 percent to 30 percent. After accounting for firm heterogeneities in costs, branding, reputation, trust, product availability and shipping costs, 28 percent of the variation in prices charged for homogeneous products remains unexplained. This is also consistent with the Varian model.

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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 2006-12.

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Date of creation: 2006
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in The New Economy and Beyond: Past Present and Future, 2006
Handle: RePEc:iuk:wpaper:2006-12
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  1. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2009. "Search, Obfuscation, and Price Elasticities on the Internet," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(2), pages 427-452, 03.
  2. Spulber, Daniel F, 1995. "Bertrand Competition When Rivals' Costs Are Unknown," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(1), pages 1-11, March.
  3. Yannis Bakos, 2001. "The Emerging Landscape for Retail E-Commerce," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 69-80, Winter.
  4. J. Rupert Gatti, 2000. "Equilibrium Price Dispersion with Sequential Search," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1368, Econometric Society.
  5. Alan T. Sorensen, 2000. "Equilibrium Price Dispersion in Retail Markets for Prescription Drugs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(4), pages 833-862, August.
  6. Baye, Michael R. & Morgan, John, 2002. "Information gatekeepers and price discrimination on the internet," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 47-51, June.
  7. Maarten C.W. Janssen & Jose Luis Moraga, 2000. "Pricing, Consumer Search and the Size of Internet Markets," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 00-042/1, Tinbergen Institute.
  8. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:93:y:1979:i:2:p:189-211 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Jennifer F. Reinganum, 1978. "A Simple Model of Equilibrium Price Dispersion," Discussion Papers 335, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  10. Michael Smith & Erik Brynjolfsson, 1999. "Frictionless Commerce? A Comparison of Internet and Conventional Retailers," Computing in Economics and Finance 1999 1022, Society for Computational Economics.
  11. Salop, Steven & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1977. "Bargains and Ripoffs: A Model of Monopolistically Competitive Price Dispersion," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(3), pages 493-510, October.
  12. Burdett, Kenneth & Judd, Kenneth L, 1983. "Equilibrium Price Dispersion," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 51(4), pages 955-69, July.
  13. Narasimhan, Chakravarthi, 1988. "Competitive Promotional Strategies," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 61(4), pages 427-49, October.
  14. Stahl, Dale O, II, 1989. "Oligopolistic Pricing with Sequential Consumer Search," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 700-712, September.
  15. Villas-Boas, J Miguel, 1995. "Models of Competitive Price Promotions: Some Empirical Evidence from the Coffee and Saltine Crackers Markets," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 4(1), pages 85-107, Spring.
  16. 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 1575-79, September.
  17. 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.
  18. Varian, Hal R, 1980. "A Model of Sales," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(4), pages 651-59, September.
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