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The effect of relative thinking on firm strategy and market outcomes: A location differentiation model with endogenous transportation costs

  • Azar, Ofer H.

Consumers often have to decide whether to go to a remote store for a lower price. Only the absolute price difference between the stores should be relevant in this case, but several experiments showed that people exhibit "relative thinking": they are affected also by the relative savings (relative to the good's price). This article analyzes the effects of this bias on firm strategy and market outcomes using a two-period game-theoretic model of location differentiation. Relative thinking causes consumers to make less effort to save a constant amount when they buy more expensive goods. In the location differentiation context this behavior can be modeled by consumers who behave as if their transportation costs are an increasing function of the good's price. This gives firms an additional incentive to raise prices, in order to increase the perceived transportation costs of consumers, which consequently softens competition and allows higher profits. Therefore, the response of firms to relative thinking raises prices and profits and reduces consumer surplus, in both periods. Total welfare is unchanged in the first period, and in the second period it is either unchanged or reduced, depending on whether the objective or subjective transportation costs are used to compute welfare. The main results of the model (firms' response to relative thinking increases prices and reduces consumer surplus) are likely to hold also in the context of search. The article also explains why "relative thinking" is a more appropriate term than "mental accounting" (which was often used before) to describe this behavior, and discusses why people might exhibit relative thinking.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 4455.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:4455
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  1. Dana, James D, Jr, 1994. "Learning in an Equilibrium Search Model," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 35(3), pages 745-71, August.
  2. Ofer H. Azar, 2011. "Relative thinking in consumer choice between differentiated goods and services and its implications for business strategy," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(2), pages 176-185, February.
  3. Richard Thaler, 1985. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 4(3), pages 199-214.
  4. Daniel Kahneman, 2003. "Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(5), pages 1449-1475, December.
  5. Duxbury, Darren & Keasey, Kevin & Zhang, Hao & Chow, Shue Loong, 2005. "Mental accounting and decision making: Evidence under reverse conditions where money is spent for time saved," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 567-580, August.
  6. Moon, Philip & Keasey, Kevin & Duxbury, Darren, 1999. "Mental accounting and decision making:: The relationship between relative and absolute savings," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 145-153, February.
  7. Ofer Azar, 2009. "Does Relative Thinking Exist In Real-World Situations? A Field Experiment With Bagels And Cream Cheese," Working Papers 0907, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of Economics.
  8. Thaler, Richard, 1980. "Toward a positive theory of consumer choice," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 39-60, March.
  9. Ofer H. Azar, 2013. "Firm strategy and biased decision making: the price dispersion puzzle," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 45(7), pages 901-910, March.
  10. Azar, Ofer H., 2007. "Relative thinking theory," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-14, February.
  11. Frisch, Deborah, 1993. "Reasons for Framing Effects," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 399-429, April.
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