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The Impact of Consumer Loss Aversion on Pricing

  • Paul Heidhues
  • Botond Köszegi

We develop a model in which a profit-maximizing monopolist with uncertain cost of production sells to loss-averse, yet rational, consumers. We first introduce (portable) techniques for analyzing the demand of such consumers, and then investigate the monopolist's pricing strategy. Compared to lower possible purchase prices, paying a higher price in the firm's pricing distribution is assessed by consumers as a loss, decreasing demand for the firm's product. We provide conditions under which a firm with continuously distributed marginal cost responds by (locally) eliminating this "comparison effect" and choosing a discrete price distribution; that is, prices are "sticky". Price stickiness is more likely to obtain when the cost distribution has high density, the price responsiveness of demand is low, or consumers are likely to purchase. Whether or not prices are sticky, the monopolist wants to at least mitigate the comparison effect, leading to countercyclical markups. On the other hand, if consumers expect to buy the product, they experience a loss if they end up not consuming it, increasing their willingness to pay for it. Thus, despite the tendency toward price stability, there are also circumstances in which a firm with unchanging cost offers random "sales" to increase customers' expectation to consume, attracting more demand at higher prices. ZUSAMMENFASSUNG - (Strategisches Preissetzungsverhalten mit verlustaversen Konsumenten) Wir analysieren das optimale Verhalten eines profitmaximierenden Monopolisten mit stochastischen Produktionskosten, der an rationale, verlustaverse Konsumenten verkauft. Hierzu entwickelt der Beitrag übertragbare Techniken, die es erlauben, die Nachfrage von verlustaversen Konsumenten herzuleiten, und bestimmt die optimale Preissetzungsstrategie des Monopolisten. Ein Konsument empfindet einen Verlust, wenn er den von ihm gezahlten Kaufpreis mit erwarteten niedrigeren Preisen des Monopolisten vergleicht. Dieser Verlust reduziert die Zahlungsbereitschaft des Konsumenten und senkt somit seine Nachfrage. Der Beitrag zeigt auf, unter welchen Bedingungen eine Firma mit kontinuierlich verteilten Grenzkosten diesen "Vergleichseffekt" (lokal) eliminiert, indem sie eine diskrete Preisverteilung wählt --- also, eine Preisverteilung mit Preisstarrheit. Diese Preisstarrheit tritt umso eher auf, je höher die Dichte der Kostenverteilung, je niedriger die Nachfrageelastizität oder je größer die Kaufwahrscheinlichkeit des Konsumenten ist. Unabhängig davon, ob die optimale Preisverteilung Preisstarrheit aufweist oder nicht, schwächt der Monopolist diesen Vergleichseffekt ab in dem er antizyklische Preisaufschläge verlangt. Auf der anderen Seite führt die Kauferwartung des Konsumenten dazu, dass er einen Verlust realisiert, wenn er das Gut nicht konsumieren kann. Eine höhere Kauferwartung führt somit zu einer höheren Zahlungsbereitschaft des Konsumenten. Daher kann es trotz der Tendenz zur Preisstarrheit auch Umstände geben, unter denen eine Unternehmung mit fixen Grenzkosten zufällige "Sonderangebote" macht, welche die Kauferwartung des Konsumenten erhöhen und somit mehr Nachfrage bei höheren Preisen generieren.

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Paper provided by Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG) in its series CIG Working Papers with number SP II 2004-17.

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Length: 49 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2004
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Handle: RePEc:wzb:wzebiv:spii2004-17
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