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Risk and Loss Aversion, Price Uncertainty and the Implications for Consumer Search

Listed author(s):
  • Adriaan R. Soetevent

    (University of Groningen, The Netherlands)

  • Tadas Bruzikas

    (University of Groningen, The Netherlands)

Do the choices of consumers who search for a product's best price exhibit risk neutral, risk averse or loss averse risk attitudes? We study how in a problem of sequential search with costless recall the relation between a consumer's willingness to pay for continued search and the level of price uncertainty depends on her risk preferences. Independent of the current best price, an increase in price uncertainty encourages continued search when consumers are risk neutral. However, we prove that theory predicts an inversion when consumers are either risk or loss averse. In those cases, an increase in price uncertainty only increases the consumer's willingness to pay (WTP) for continued search if the current best price is sufficiently low. We subsequently use this observation in an empirical test to identify between different risk preferences in a stylized problem of sequential search. In line with the inversion, we find that a reduction in price uncertainty decreases the WTP for continued search when the current best price is low but increases the WTP when it is high. While at odds with the assumption of risk neutrality, this finding is consistent with models of consumer risk and/or loss aversion. Moreover, the model parameters of risk and loss aversion that lead to the best empirical fit have values similar to those estimated for other decision domains.

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Paper provided by Tinbergen Institute in its series Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers with number 16-049/VII.

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Date of creation: 04 Jul 2016
Handle: RePEc:tin:wpaper:20160049
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  8. Roland Bénabou & Robert Gertner, 1993. "Search with Learning from Prices: Does Increased Inflationary Uncertainty Lead to Higher Markups?," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 69-93.
  9. Marco A. Haan & José L. Moraga‐González, 2011. "Advertising for Attention in a Consumer Search Model," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 121(552), pages 552-579, 05.
  10. Lippman, Steven A & McCall, John J, 1976. "The Economics of Job Search: A Survey," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 14(3), pages 347-368, September.
  11. Maarten Janssen & Sandro Shelegia, 2015. "Consumer Search and Double Marginalization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(6), pages 1683-1710, June.
  12. Bateman, Ian & Kahneman, Daniel & Munro, Alistair & Starmer, Chris & Sugden, Robert, 2005. "Testing competing models of loss aversion: an adversarial collaboration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(8), pages 1561-1580, August.
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