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Cowboys or Cowards: Why are Internet Car Prices Lower?

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

Abstract

This paper addresses the question of how much the Internet lowers prices for new cars and why. Using a large dataset of transaction prices for new automobiles and referral data from Autobytel.com, we find that online consumers pay on average 1.2% less than do offline consumers. After controlling for selection, we find that using Autobytel.com reduces the price a consumer pays by approximately 2.2%. This suggests that consumers who use an Internet referral service are not those who would have obtained a low price even in the absence of the Internet. Instead, our finding is consistent with consumers choosing to use Autobytel.com because they know that they would do poorly in the traditional channel, perhaps because they have a high personal cost to collecting information and bargaining. This group disproportionately uses Autobytel.com because its members are the ones with the most to gain. We estimate that savings to consumers who use Autobytel.com alone are at least $240 million per year. Since there are other referral and informational sites that may also help consumers bargain more effectively with dealers, we conclude that the Internet is facilitating a large transfer of surplus to Internet consumers in the retail auto industry.

Suggested Citation

  • Florian Zettelmeyer & Fiona Scott Morton & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2001. "Cowboys or Cowards: Why are Internet Car Prices Lower?," NBER Working Papers 8667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8667
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ganesh Iyer & Amit Pazgal, 2003. "Internet Shopping Agents: Virtual Co-Location and Competition," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 22(1), pages 85-106, November.
    2. Heckman, James J, 1978. "Dummy Endogenous Variables in a Simultaneous Equation System," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(4), pages 931-959, July.
    3. Angrist, Joshua D, 2001. "Estimations of Limited Dependent Variable Models with Dummy Endogenous Regressors: Simple Strategies for Empirical Practice," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 19(1), pages 2-16, January.
    4. Jeffrey R. Brown & Austan Goolsbee, 2002. "Does the Internet Make Markets More Competitive? Evidence from the Life Insurance Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(3), pages 481-507, June.
    5. Yuxin Chen & Ganesh Iyer & V. Padmanabhan, 2002. "Referral Infomediaries," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 21(4), pages 412-434, May.
    6. Bresnahan, Timothy F & Reiss, Peter C, 1991. "Entry and Competition in Concentrated Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 977-1009, October.
    7. Fiona Scott Morton & Florian Zettelmeyer & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2001. "Internet Car Retailing," NBER Chapters,in: E-commerce, pages 501-519 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. 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.
    9. Hausman, Jerry A., 1983. "Specification and estimation of simultaneous equation models," Handbook of Econometrics,in: Z. Griliches† & M. D. Intriligator (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 7, pages 391-448 Elsevier.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kugler, Tamar & Neeman, Zvika & Vulkan, Nir, 2006. "Markets versus negotiations: An experimental investigation," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 121-134, July.
    2. 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.).
    3. Fiona Scott Morton & Florian Zettelmeyer & Jorge Silva-Risso, 2001. "Consumer Information and Price Discrimination: Does the Internet Affect the Pricing of New Cars to Women and Minorities?," NBER Working Papers 8668, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Anindya Ghose & Tridas Mukhopadhyay & Uday Rajan, 2003. "Strategic Benefits of Referral Services," Review of Marketing Science Working Papers 2-2-1022, Berkeley Electronic Press.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L1 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights

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