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Theses Doctoral

Essays on Price Discrimination

Ngwe, Donald

The increasing availability of detailed, individual-level data from retail settings presents new opportunities to study fundamental issues in product design, price discrimination, and consumer behavior. In this set of essays I use a particularly rich data set provided by a major fashion goods manufacturer and retailer to illustrate how observed firm strategies correspond to predictions from producer theory. I present evidence on the importance of multidimensionality in consumer preferences, both within the theory of price discrimination and as a factor in actual firm decisions. Finally, I explore the applicability of concepts from signaling theory and behavioral economics in explaining consumer purchase decisions.
The first chapter describes the empirical setting used throughout the entire dissertation. Data is provided by a luxury goods firm that dominates its category of fashion goods in the United States. The firm operates hundreds of stores in the US, with different types of stores differing markedly in their geographic accessibility to consumers. I present and estimate a model of demand that admits consumer heterogeneity in two dimensions: travel sensitivity and product age sensitivity. I show that consumer heterogeneity in these two dimensions outweigh that in observable characteristics, such as household income. Furthermore, I estimate a high correlation in the two dimensions, such that consumers who are most averse to travel are also those for whom product newness is most valuable.
The second chapter focuses on the firm's store location and product introduction strategies. I introduce a model of product introduction wherein the firm selects only the parameters of the distribution of product characteristics, rather than the characteristics of each new product. This dramatically simplifies the firm's optimization program. I use this model to simulate counterfactual product assortments given alternative store location decisions. I show that the optimality of observed store locations depends substantially on the correlation in consumer values for travel distance and product quality. I also show that increased differentiation in geographic accessibility enables the firm to profitably increase differentiation in product quality.
The third chapter studies how consumers respond to different price signals conditional on store visitation. Many firms employ price comparisons as a selling strategy, in which actual prices are framed as discounted from a high list price, occasionally even when no units are sold at list prices. I show that high list prices enhance demand both on product and store levels. I present evidence that suggests that consumers infer quality from list prices. I also demonstrate that these demand-enhancing effects are dependent on characteristics of the retail context, such as the general level and dispersion of discounting.
These essays study in isolation components of consolidated selling strategies that have been widely adopted by US manufacturers and retailers across a wide variety of categories. My hope is to achieve a deeper understanding of the aspects of consumer behavior and firm incentives that have led to the prevalence of these selling strategies. This understanding is central in forming prescriptions for managers as well as measuring welfare implications, both of which I leave for future work.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ho, Kate
Riordan, Michael H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014