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Does the Internet Make Markets More Competitive?

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  • Jeffrey R. Brown
  • Austan Goolsbee

Abstract

The Internet has the potential to significantly reduce search costs by allowing consumers to engage in low-cost price comparisons online. This paper provides empirical evidence on the impact that the rise of Internet comparison shopping sites has had for the prices of life insurance in the 1990s. Using micro data on individual life insurance policies, the results indicate that, controlling for individual and policy characteristics, a 10 percent increase in the share of individuals in a group using the Internet reduces average insurance prices for the group by as much as 5 percent. Further evidence indicates that prices did not fall with rising Internet usage for insurance types that were not covered by the comparison websites, nor did they in the period before the insurance sites came online. The results suggest that growth of the Internet has reduced term life prices by 8 to 15 percent and increased consumer surplus by $115-215 million per year and perhaps more. The results also show that the initial introduction of the Internet search sites is initially associated with an increase in price dispersion within demographic groups, but as the share of people using the technology rises further, dispersion falls.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey R. Brown & Austan Goolsbee, 2000. "Does the Internet Make Markets More Competitive?," NBER Working Papers 7996, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7996
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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Emin M. Dinlersoz & Han Li & Roger Sherman & Rubén Hernández-Murillo, 2006. "Information and drug prices: evidence from the Medicare discount drug card program," Working Papers 2005-072, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
    3. D'Urso, Victoria T., 2003. "Home Buyer Search Duration and the Internet," Working papers 4271-02, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
    4. Chong, Alberto & Micco, Alejandro, 2003. "The Internet and the ability to innovate in Latin America," Emerging Markets Review, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 53-72, March.
    5. Scott Schuh & Oz Shy & Joanna Stavins & Robert K. Triest, 2011. "An economic analysis of the 2010 proposed settlement between the Department of Justice and credit card networks," Public Policy Discussion Paper 11-4, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    6. Stefan W. Schmitz & Michael Latzer, 2002. "Competition in B2C eCommerce: Analytical Issues and Empirical Evidence," Industrial Organization 0211001, EconWPA.
    7. Erik Brynjolfsson & Astrid Dick & Michael Smith, 2010. "A nearly perfect market?," Quantitative Marketing and Economics (QME), Springer, vol. 8(1), pages 1-33, March.
    8. Alan T. Sorensen, 2001. "An Empirical Model of Heterogeneous Consumer Search for Retail Prescription Drugs," NBER Working Papers 8548, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Mark V. Pauly & Kate H. Withers & Krupa Subramanian-Viswana & Jean Lemaire & John C. Hershey, 2003. "Price Elasticity of Demand for Term Life Insurance and Adverse Selection," NBER Working Papers 9925, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Cigan, Heidi, 2002. "The internet's contribution to progress and growth in Germany: The economic impact of the internet and the price structure of access," HWWA Reports 216, Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWA).
    11. Fiona Scott Morton & Florian Zettelmeyer & Jorge Silva Risso, 2000. "Internet Car Retailing," NBER Working Papers 7961, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. M. Kate Bundorf & Laurence Baker & Sara Singer & Todd Wagner, 2004. "Consumer Demand for Health Information on the Internet," NBER Working Papers 10386, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Sophie Larribeau & Thierry Pénard, 2002. "Le commerce électronique en France : un essai de mesure sur le marché des CD," Économie et Statistique, Programme National Persée, vol. 355(1), pages 27-46.
    14. Watanabe, Makoto, 2008. "Inflation, price competition, and consumer search technology," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 32(12), pages 3780-3806, December.
    15. Brynjolfsson, Erik & Dick, Astrid Andrea & Smith, Michael D., 2004. "Search and Product Differentiation at an Internet Shopbot," Working papers 4441-03, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
    16. Nolte, André, 2017. "The internet effects on sex crime and murder: Evidence from the broadband internet expansion in Germany," ZEW Discussion Papers 17-050, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    17. Spiekermann, Sarah & Strobel, Martin & Temme, Dirk, 2002. "Drivers and impediments of consumer online information search: Self-controlled versus agent-based search in a high involvement context," SFB 373 Discussion Papers 2002,37, Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • O4 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity

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