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Scarcity Rents in Car Retailing: Evidence from Inventory Fluctuations at Dealerships


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


Price variation for identical cars at the same dealership is commonly assumed to arise because dealers with market power are able to price discriminate among their customers. In this paper we show that while price discrimination may be one element of price variation, price variation also arises from inventory fluctuations. Inventory fluctuations create scarcity rents for cars that are in short supply. The price variation due to inventory fluctuations thus functions to efficiently allocate particular cars that are in restricted supply to those customers who value them most highly. Our empirical results show that a dealership moving from a situation of inventory shortage to an average inventory level lowers transaction prices by about 1% ceteris paribus, corresponding to 15% of dealers' average per vehicle profit margin or $250 on the average car. Shorter resupply times also decrease transaction prices for cars in high demand. For traditional dealerships, inventory explains 49% of the combined inventory and demographic components of the predicted price. For so-called 'no-haggle' dealerships, the percentage explained by inventory increases to 74%.

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  • Florian Zettelmeyer & Fiona Scott Morton & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2006. "Scarcity Rents in Car Retailing: Evidence from Inventory Fluctuations at Dealerships," NBER Working Papers 12177, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12177
    Note: IO

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Adam Copeland & Wendy E. Dunn & George J. Hall, 2005. "Prices, production, and inventories over the automotive model year," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2005-25, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    2. Guillermo Gallego & Garrett van Ryzin, 1994. "Optimal Dynamic Pricing of Inventories with Stochastic Demand over Finite Horizons," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 40(8), pages 999-1020, August.
    3. Adam Copeland & George Hall, 2011. "The response of prices, sales, and output to temporary changes in demand," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(2), pages 232-269, March.
    4. Carlton, Dennis W, 1978. "Market Behavior with Demand Uncertainty and Price Inflexibility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 68(4), pages 571-587, September.
    5. Borenstein, Severin & Rose, Nancy L, 1994. "Competition and Price Dispersion in the U.S. Airline Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 653-683, August.
    6. Dana, James D, Jr, 2001. "Competition in Price and Availability When Availability is Unobservable," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 32(3), pages 497-513, Autumn.
    7. Jason D. Papastavrou & Srikanth Rajagopalan & Anton J. Kleywegt, 1996. "The Dynamic and Stochastic Knapsack Problem with Deadlines," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(12), pages 1706-1718, December.
    8. Hall, George & Rust, John, 2000. "An empirical model of inventory investment by durable commodity intermediaries," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 171-214, June.
    9. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Valerie A. Ramey, 1994. "Output Fluctuations at the Plant Level," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 593-624.
    10. Fiona Morton & Florian Zettelmeyer & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2003. "Consumer Information and Discrimination: Does the Internet Affect the Pricing of New Cars to Women and Minorities?," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 65-92, March.
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    JEL classification:

    • L0 - Industrial Organization - - General
    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance

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