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When Little Things Mean a Lot: On the Inefficiency of Item Pricing Laws

  • Mark Bergen

    (University of Minnesota)

  • Daniel Levy

    (Bar-Ilan University)

  • Sourav Ray

    (McMaster University)

  • Paul Rubin

    (Emory University)

  • Benjamin Zeliger

    (Cornell University)

We study item-pricing laws (which require that each item in a store be individually marked with a price sticker) and examine and quantify their costs and benefits. On the cost side, we argue that item-pricing laws increase the retailers’ costs, forcing them to raise prices. We test this prediction using data on retail prices from large supermarket chains in the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The Tri-States offer a unique setting—a natural experiment—to study item-pricing laws because the States vary in their use of item-pricing laws, but otherwise offer similar markets and chains operating in a close proximity to each other in a relatively homogenous socioeconomic environment. We use two datasets, one emphasizing the breadth in coverage across products and the other across stores. We find consistent evidence across products, product categories, stores, chains, states, and sampling periods, that the prices at stores facing item-pricing laws are higher than the prices at stores not facing the item pricing laws by about 25¢ or 9.6% per item. We also have data from supermarket chains that would be subject to item-pricing laws but are exempted from item pricing requirement because they use costly electronic shelf label systems. Using this data as a control, we find that the electronic shelf label store prices fall between the item-pricing law and non-item- pricing law store prices: they are lower than the item-pricing law store prices by about 15¢ per item on average, but are higher than the non- item-pricing law store prices by about 10¢ per item on average. On the benefit side, we study the frequency and the magnitude of supermarket pricing errors, which the item-pricing laws are supposed to prevent. We quantify the benefits of the IPLs by conservatively assuming that they successfully accomplish their mission of preventing all price mistakes. Comparing the costs of item-pricing laws to their benefits, we find that the item-pricing law costs are at least an order of magnitude higher than the benefits.

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File URL: http://128.118.178.162/eps/le/papers/0405/0405005.pdf
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Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Law and Economics with number 0405005.

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Length: 67 pages
Date of creation: 27 May 2004
Date of revision: 02 Jun 2005
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwple:0405005
Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 67
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://128.118.178.162

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  1. Robert Barsky & Mark Bergen & Shantanu Dutta & Daniel Levy, 2002. "What Can the Price Gap between Branded and Private Label Products Tell Us about Markups?," Working Papers 2002-02, Bar-Ilan University, Department of Economics.
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  6. Reis, Ricardo, 2005. "Inattentive Consumers," CEPR Discussion Papers 5053, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Mark Zbaracki & Mark Bergen & Shantanu Dutta & Daniel Levy & Mark Ritson, 2005. "Beyond the Cost of Price Adjustment: Investments in Pricing Capital," Macroeconomics 0505013, EconWPA.
  8. Daniel Levy & Haipeng Allan Chen & Sourav Ray & Mark Bergen, 2004. "Asymmetric Price Adjustment "in the Small:" An Implication of Rational Inattention," Macroeconomics 0407012, EconWPA, revised 11 May 2005.
  9. Mark J. Zbaracki & Mark Ritson & Daniel Levy & Shantanu Dutta & Mark Bergen, 2004. "Managerial and Customer Costs of Price Adjustment: Direct Evidence from Industrial Markets," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(2), pages 514-533, May.
  10. Jeffrey Milyo & Joel Waldfogel, 1998. "The Effect of Price Advertising on Prices: Evidence in the Wake of 44 Liquormart," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 9807, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  11. Sims, Christopher A., 2003. "Implications of rational inattention," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 665-690, April.
  12. Laurence Ball & N Gregory Mankiw & Ricardo Reis, 2003. "Monetary Policy for Inattentive Economies," Economics Working Paper Archive 491, The Johns Hopkins University,Department of Economics.
  13. Jarrell, Gregg & Peltzman, Sam, 1985. "The Impact of Product Recalls on the Wealth of Sellers," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(3), pages 512-36, June.
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  15. Daniel Levy & Mark Bergen & Shantanu Dutta & Robert Venable, 2005. "The Magnitude of Menu Costs: Direct Evidence from Large U.S. Supermarket Chains," Macroeconomics 0505012, EconWPA.
  16. Sourav Ray & Haipeng (Allan) Chen & Mark E. Bergen & Daniel Levy, 2006. "Asymmetric Wholesale Pricing: Theory and Evidence," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 25(2), pages 131-154, 03-04.
  17. Benham, Lee, 1972. "The Effect of Advertising on the Price of Eyeglasses," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(2), pages 337-52, October.
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  24. N. Gregory Mankiw & Ricardo Reis, 2001. "Sticky Information Versus Sticky Prices: A Proposal to Replace the New Keynesian Phillips Curve," NBER Working Papers 8290, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  29. repec:use:tkiwps:0423 is not listed on IDEAS
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