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An Empirical Model of Search with Vertically Differentiated Products

Author

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  • Matthijs R Wildenbeest

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

Abstract

This paper presents a non-sequential search model that allows for vertical product differentiation. In the unique symmetric equilibrium firms with different characteristics draw utilities from a common utility distribution, resulting in asymmetric price distributions. The model therefore provides a theoretical rationale for explaining price dispersion as a result of quality differences and search frictions together. More specifically, the model can explain the frequent and asymmetric price changes reported in several empirical papers, but also why some firms have persistently higher prices than others. Using the equilibrium conditions derived from the model, we show how to estimate search costs by maximum likelihood using only prices. The method is applied to a data set of prices for grocery items from supermarkets in the UK. Estimates reveal that most of the observed price variation can be explained by supermarket heterogeneity and that the estimated amount of search is low in this market. We show that ignoring vertical product differentiation results in an overestimation of search costs. Moreover, estimated search costs using a basket of organic items are on average higher than that of a similar non-organic basket. We also simulate how changes in search costs will affect behavior of stores and consumers.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthijs R Wildenbeest, 2009. "An Empirical Model of Search with Vertically Differentiated Products," Working Papers 2009-01, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Department of Business Economics and Public Policy.
  • Handle: RePEc:iuk:wpaper:2009-01
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Daniel Hosken & David Reiffen, 2004. "Patterns of Retail Price Variation," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 35(1), pages 128-146, Spring.
    2. 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.
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    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    consumer search; product differentiation; price dispersion; structural estimation;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C14 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Semiparametric and Nonparametric Methods: General
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets

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