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Returns to Consumer Search: Evidence from eBay


  • Thomas Blake
  • Chris Nosko
  • Steven Tadelis


A growing body of empirical literature finds that consumers are relatively limited in how much they search over product characteristics. We assemble a dataset of search and purchase behavior from eBay to quantify the returns, and thus implied costs, to consumer search on the internet. The extensive nature of the eBay data allows us to examine a rich and detailed set of questions related to search in a way that previous structural models cannot. In contrast to the literature, we find that consumers search a lot: on average 36 times per purchase over 3 (distinct) days, with most sessions ending in no purchase. We find that search costs are relatively low, in the region of 25 cents per search page. We pursue the analysis further by, i) examining how users refine their search, ii) how search behavior spans multiple search sessions, and iii) how the amount of search relates to finding lower prices.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Blake & Chris Nosko & Steven Tadelis, 2016. "Returns to Consumer Search: Evidence from eBay," NBER Working Papers 22302, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22302
    Note: IO PR

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Eric J. Johnson & Wendy W. Moe & Peter S. Fader & Steven Bellman & Gerald L. Lohse, 2004. "On the Depth and Dynamics of Online Search Behavior," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(3), pages 299-308, March.
    2. Judith Chevalier & Austan Goolsbee, 2003. "Measuring Prices and Price Competition Online: and," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 1(2), pages 203-222, June.
    3. Sergei Koulayev, 2014. "Search for differentiated products: identification and estimation," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 45(3), pages 553-575, September.
    4. J. J. McCall, 1970. "Economics of Information and Job Search," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 84(1), pages 113-126.
    5. Jun B. Kim & Paulo Albuquerque & Bart J. Bronnenberg, 2010. "Online Demand Under Limited Consumer Search," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 29(6), pages 1001-1023, 11-12.
    6. Babur De Los Santos & Ali Hortacsu & Matthijs R. Wildenbeest, 2012. "Testing Models of Consumer Search Using Data on Web Browsing and Purchasing Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(6), pages 2955-2980, October.
    7. Stephan Seiler, 2013. "The impact of search costs on consumer behavior: A dynamic approach," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 11(2), pages 155-203, June.
    8. Draganska, Michaela & Klapper, Daniel, 2010. "Choice Set Heterogeneity and the Role of Advertising: An Analysis with Micro and Macro Data," Research Papers 2063, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
    9. Glenn Ellison & Sara Fisher Ellison, 2005. "Lessons About Markets from the Internet," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(2), pages 139-158, Spring.
    10. Michelle Sovinsky Goeree, 2008. "Limited Information and Advertising in the U.S. Personal Computer Industry," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 76(5), pages 1017-1074, September.
    11. Han Hong & Matthew Shum, 2006. "Using price distributions to estimate search costs," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 37(2), pages 257-275, June.
    12. Mortensen, Dale T, 1970. "Job Search, the Duration of Unemployment, and the Phillips Curve," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 60(5), pages 847-862, December.
    13. George J. Stigler, 1961. "The Economics of Information," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 69, pages 213-213.
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    Cited by:

    1. Daron Acemoglu & Ali Makhdoumi & Azarakhsh Malekian & Asuman Ozdaglar, 2017. "Fast and Slow Learning From Reviews," NBER Working Papers 24046, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D43 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Oligopoly and Other Forms of Market Imperfection
    • 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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