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How the Internet Lowers Prices: Evidence from Matched Survey and Auto Transaction Data


  • Florian Zettelmeyer
  • Fiona Scott Morton
  • Jorge Silva-Risso


There is convincing evidence that the Internet has lowered the prices paid by some consumers in established industries, for example, term life insurance and car retailing. However, current research does not reveal much about how using the Internet lowers prices. This paper answers this question for the auto retailing industry. We use direct measures of search behavior and consumer characteristics to investigate how the Internet affects negotiated prices. We show that the Internet lowers prices for two distinct reasons. First, the Internet helps consumers learn the invoice price of dealers. Second, the referral process of online buying services, a novel institution made possible by the Internet, also helps consumers obtain lower prices. The combined information and referral price effects are -1.5%, corresponding to 22% of dealers' average gross profit margin per vehicle. We also find that buyers with a high disutility of bargaining benefit from information on the specific car they eventually purchased while buyers who like the bargaining process do not. The results suggest that the decisions consumers make to use the Internet to gather information and to use the negotiating clout of an online buying service have a real effect on the prices paid by these consumers.

Suggested Citation

  • Florian Zettelmeyer & Fiona Scott Morton & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2005. "How the Internet Lowers Prices: Evidence from Matched Survey and Auto Transaction Data," NBER Working Papers 11515, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11515
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Klein, Benjamin & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "Vertical Restraints as Contract Enforcement Mechanisms," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages 265-297, October.
    2. Jeffrey R. Brown & Austan Goolsbee, 2000. "Does the Internet Make Markets More Competitive?," NBER Working Papers 7996, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Yuxin Chen & Ganesh Iyer & V. Padmanabhan, 2002. "Referral Infomediaries," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 21(4), pages 412-434, May.
    4. Morton, Fiona Scott & Zettelmeyer, Florian & Silva-Risso, Jorge, 2001. "Internet Car Retailing," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(4), pages 501-519, December.
    5. Gul, Faruk & Sonnenschein, Hugo & Wilson, Robert, 1986. "Foundations of dynamic monopoly and the coase conjecture," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 155-190, June.
    6. Klein, Benjamin, 1995. "The economics of franchise contracts," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 2(1-2), pages 9-37, October.
    7. Snyder, Christopher M., 1998. "Why do larger buyers pay lower prices? Intense supplier competition," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 58(2), pages 205-209, February.
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    JEL classification:

    • L11 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Production, Pricing, and Market Structure; Size Distribution of Firms
    • L15 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Information and Product Quality
    • L62 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Manufacturing - - - Automobiles; Other Transportation Equipment; Related Parts and Equipment
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • M31 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Marketing

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