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Uniform Pricing in US Retail Chains

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  • Stefano DellaVigna
  • Matthew Gentzkow

Abstract

We show that most US food, drugstore, and mass merchandise chains charge nearly-uniform prices across stores, despite wide variation in consumer demographics and competition. Demand estimates reveal substantial within-chain variation in price elasticities and suggest that the median chain sacrifices $16m of annual profit relative to a benchmark of optimal prices. In contrast, differences in average prices between chains are broadly consistent with the optimal benchmark. We discuss a range of explanations for nearly-uniform pricing, highlighting managerial inertia and brand-image concerns as mechanisms frequently mentioned by industry participants. Relative to our optimal benchmark, uniform pricing may significantly increase the prices paid by poorer households relative to the rich, dampen the response of prices to local economic shocks, alter the analysis of mergers in antitrust, and shift the incidence of intra-national trade costs.

Suggested Citation

  • Stefano DellaVigna & Matthew Gentzkow, 2017. "Uniform Pricing in US Retail Chains," NBER Working Papers 23996, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23996
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Cawley, John & Frisvold, David & Hill, Anna & Jones, David, 2020. "Oakland’s sugar-sweetened beverage tax: Impacts on prices, purchases and consumption by adults and children," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 37(C).
    2. Marcelo L. Bérgolo & Rodrigo Ceni & Guillermo Cruces & Matias Giaccobasso & Ricardo Perez-Truglia, 2017. "Tax Audits as Scarecrows: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 23631, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Jonas Hjort & Xuan Li & Heather Sarsons, 2020. "Across-Country Wage Compression in Multinationals," NBER Working Papers 26788, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Hunt Allcott & Benjamin B. Lockwood & Dmitry Taubinsky, 2019. "Should We Tax Sugar-Sweetened Beverages? An Overview of Theory and Evidence," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 33(3), pages 202-227, Summer.
    5. Harju, Jarkko & Kosonen, Tuomas & Skans, Oskar Nordström, 2018. "Firm types, price-setting strategies, and consumption-tax incidence," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 48-72.
    6. Friberg, Richard & Steen, Frode & Ulsaker, Simen A., 2018. "Hump-shaped cross-price effects and the extensive margin in cross-border shopping," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 29/2018, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    7. Itai Ater & Oren Rigbi, 2018. "The Effects of Mandatory Disclosure of Supermarket Prices," CESifo Working Paper Series 6942, CESifo.
    8. Basker, Emek & Vickers, Chris & Ziebarth, Nicolas L., 2018. "Competition, productivity, and survival of grocery stores in the Great Depression," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 282-315.
    9. Meilin Ma & Tina L Saitone & Richard J Volpe & Richard J Sexton & Michelle Saksena & Craig GundersenEditor, 2019. "Market Concentration, Market Shares, and Retail Food Prices: Evidence from the U.S. Women, Infants, and Children Program," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 41(3), pages 542-562.
    10. Bronchetti, Erin T. & Christensen, Garret & Hoynes, Hilary W., 2019. "Local food prices, SNAP purchasing power, and child health," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(C).
    11. Fontaine, François & Martin, Julien & Mejean, Isabelle, 2020. "Price discrimination within and across EMU markets: Evidence from French exporters," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C).
    12. Christopher Hansman & Harrison Hong & Áureo de Paula & Vishal Singh, 2020. "A Sticky-Price View of Hoarding," NBER Working Papers 27051, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Brugués, F. & Brugués, J. & Giambra, S., 2018. "Political connections and misallocation of procurement contracts: evidence from Ecuador," Research Department working papers 1394, CAF Development Bank Of Latinamerica.
    14. Villas-Boas, Sofia B & Kiesel, Kristin & Berning, Joshua & Chouinard, Hayley & McCluskey, Jill, 2019. "Consumer and Strategic Firm Response to Nutrition Shelf Labels," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt58j648mk, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
    15. Ater, Itai & Rigbi, Oren, 2017. "The Effects of Mandatory Disclosure of Supermarket Prices," CEPR Discussion Papers 12381, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    16. Michele Fioretti, 2020. "Social Responsibility and Firm's Objectives," Sciences Po publications 2020-01, Sciences Po.
    17. Jessie Handbury, 2019. "Are Poor Cities Cheap for Everyone? Non-Homotheticity and the Cost of Living Across U.S. Cities," NBER Working Papers 26574, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Hjort, Jonas & Li, Xuan & Sarsons, Heather, 2020. "Across-Country Wage Compression in Multinationals," CEPR Discussion Papers 14465, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    19. Daniel Czarnievicz & Leandro Zipitría, 2018. "Concentración y precios en cinco mercados minoristas," Documentos de Trabajo (working papers) 0618, Department of Economics - dECON.
    20. Hindriks, Jean & Serse, Valerio, 2019. "Heterogeneity in the tax pass-through to spirit retail prices: Evidence from Belgium," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 176(C), pages 142-160.
    21. Xintong Han & Pu Zhao, 2019. "Pay for Content or Pay for Marketing? An Empirical Study on Content Pricing," Working Papers 19-03, NET Institute.
    22. David Argente & Munseob Lee & Sara Moreira, 2018. "How do Firms Grow? The Life Cycle of Products Matters," 2018 Meeting Papers 1174, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    23. Andrew Butters, R., 2019. "On demand uncertainty in the newsvendor model," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 185(C).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D9 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics
    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • L2 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior
    • M31 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Marketing

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